Rushed Reactions: #6 Memphis 54, #11 Saint Mary’s 52

Posted by Will Tucker on March 21st, 2013

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Will Tucker is a RTC correspondent. Will is covering the Auburn Hills pod of the Midwest Region. You can also find him on Twitter @blrdswag.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Memphis is always a threat to get out and run. Even against the fifth-most efficient offense in the country, the Tigers found ways to capitalize on missed shots by getting out in transition and exploiting their athleticism. Outlet passes to a streaking Joe Jackson on blocks and defensive boards routinely led to points, as the shifty point guard would set up easy baskets for Tarik Black, D.J. Stephens and others. That advantage became less apparent as the Gaels’ cold shooting subsided, making fewer defensive rebounds available in the second half. But as St. Mary’s clawed back into the game, Memphis responded by turning up the defensive intensity, creating 19 points off turnovers with dunks and transition threes.

    It wasn't easy, but Joe Jackson and Memphis advanced to the third round. (Getty)

    It wasn’t easy, but Joe Jackson and Memphis advanced to the third round. (Getty)

  2. Simply put, Shaq Goodwin needs to foul less. Goodwin sat for most of the first half after accumulating two fouls in the first three minutes, in yet another installment of his well-documented issues with personals. His 3.3 fouls per game ranks top 40 in the country, despite only playing 21 points per game. Which is exactly the issue, because Josh Pastner needs the powerful 6’9″ freshman on the court if the Tigers are going to take down Michigan State’s frontcourt. The abusive tandem of Derrick Nix (6’9″, 270) and Adreian Payne (6’10″, 240) already demonstrated earlier in the day how productive they can be when they get anywhere near the offensive glass. Memphis has a plethora of athletes, but outside of Goodwin and Tarik Black, they don’t have the bulk to contain Michigan State’s big men in the style of play Tom Izzo will try to dictate on Saturday.
  3. Defensive rebounding and free throw shooting remain question marks for this club. Josh Pastner prioritized both after the Tigers shot 33% from the line and gave up an absurd number of second-chance opportunities in a loss to Xavier. The Tigers seemed to have reformed themselves since giving up 41.5% of available offensive boards to the Musketeers, but they allowed the Gaels to grab 15 offensive boards and score 17 second chance points today. They also shot 50% from the charity stripe, and made only 4-of-10 in the final three minutes, which left the door open for the Gaels to attempt a game-winning three at the buzzer that missed long.

Star of the GameJoe Jackson, who posted team-highs of 14 points, 7 assists, and 6 rebounds, as well as orchestrating a beautiful transition offense that never let its foot off the gas. Discounting a crucial turnover at the end of the game, Jackson generally had a good awareness of time and situation, and helped hold Steve Holt and Matthew Dellavedova to a combined 4-of-23 from the field. (Co-star: Josh Pastner, who won his first NCAA Tournament game as a head coach.)

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The Other 26: Bracket-Busting, East and Midwest Edition

Posted by IRenko on March 20th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC columnist and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

This is part two of our TO26 bracket analysis, focusing on the 17 non-power-conference teams that populate the East and Midwest regions. The teams are grouped into five rough categories, and, within each category, they are ordered by their likelihood of advancing.  For our analysis of the South and West regions, see here.

Regional Threats

These are the teams that have a credible chance of dancing all the way to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.

  • St. Louis (#4 Midwest) — The Bilikens are flying a bit under the radar, but this is a team that should be a favorite for a Sweet 16 run. They have one of the best defenses in the country, a group of experienced guards who can attack and shoot (Kwamain Mitchell, Mike McCall, Jordair Jett), a surprisingly effective post presence in Dwayne Evans, and a pair of pick-‘n-pop big men (Rob Loe, Cody Ellis) who can drain the three. It should be said, though, that the Bilikens’ draw is not necessarily ideal. A first-round game against New Mexico State presents some matchup quandaries (see below), as does a potential Third Round game against Oklahoma State — both teams are prepared to bang and grind with the Bilikens down low. Ultimately, I think the St. Louis’ defense is strong enough to get them to the Sweet 16, where their steady guard play gives them a non-trivial chance of knocking off the Cards.
Can Rotnei Clarke Lead Butler Back to the Final Four?

Can Rotnei Clarke Lead Butler Back to the Final Four?

  • Butler (#6, East) — Yes, they’re back. Neither Bucknell nor their potential Third Round opponent (Marquette or Davidson) will be an easy team to conquer, but all three of these teams will give Butler an important reprieve from its biggest vulnerability — a tendency to turn it over. Bucknell and Marquette will also play at the kind of grinding pace at which the Bulldogs excel. And they’ll focus their offense on the areas of the floor where Butler’s defense is strongest — the paint. Butler also has the shooters — Rotnei Clark, Kellen Dunham — to bombard Marquette’s compact defense and the rebounders to exploit Marquette’s weakness on the glass. If anything, Bucknell may pose a bigger matchup problem, as they tend to chase teams off the three-point line and they don’t give up much on the offensive glass. The Bison will be a tough opponent, but when you look at Butler’s pod as a whole, a Sweet 16 run looks well within reach.

One and Done

These teams have at least a 50/50 (or better) chance of picking up a win, but are unlikely to get two.

  • Colorado State (#8, Midwest) – I would actually bump the Rams up to the tail end of the “Regional Threats” group if not for the uncertain status of starting point guard Dorian Green. The team’s unquestioned floor general, Green suffered an ankle injury in the first round of the MWC tournament, and though he played in a semifinal loss to UNLV, was ineffective. With a fully healthy Green, the Rams’ have a good chance of toppling Missouri. The two teams are somewhat similar in that they try to score in the paint on offense, while keeping opponents out of the paint of it on defense. Neither team is especially potent from the three-point line, and both rely a fair amount on offensive rebounding, though the Rams’ have the advantage here, especially as they are equally adept at controlling their defensive glass. That, along with Missouri’s tendency to be a bit loose with the ball, may be the difference-maker. And don’t sleep on Colorado State’s chances against Louisville in the next round. The Cardinals’ weak points are defensive rebounding and three-point shooting. The Rams are the best offensive rebounding team in the country, and as noted above, their defense forces teams to beat them from the three-point line. They also take pretty good care of the ball, which will serve them well against Louisville’s pressure defense. But this analysis could be all for naught if Green isn’t healthy enough to be effective.
  • Creighton (#7, Midwest) Doug McDermott is perhaps the most fundamentally sound player in college basketball. His All-American status owes itself to his incredibly precise offensive footwork, positioning, movement, shot, and cuts. He has inside-outside skills that present a very tough matchup if you’re not used to guarding him. And he’s surrounded by lots of great three-point shooters. Cincinnati’s defense has generally been strong, so they might be able to contain McDermott and the Bluejays’ three-point attack. But they’ll have to be especially effective because their offense has been truly miserable. I like the Bluejays’ chances here. A Third Round matchup with Duke would be a tougher proposition, as the Blue Devils combine a defense that shuts down the three-point line with an offense that is far more high-powered than Cincinnati’s. McDermott may well get his points, especially posting up inside, but that’s not likely to be sufficient.

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The Official RTC Bracket: Midwest And West Regions

Posted by KDoyle on March 20th, 2013

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We released the Official RTC Bracket for the South and East Regions earlier today — be sure to check that out if you need a refresher on our methodology for this exercise — and we’ll save you the fluff this time and cut right to the chase with the Midwest and West Regions. (note: our Final Four selections are after the analyses)

Midwest and West Regions

Quick Hitters From the Midwest Region

  • Advancing to Atlanta: #1 Louisville
  • Round of 64 Upset: #11 St. Mary’s over #6 Memphis
  • Later Round Upset: N/A
  • Three Most Disputed Games: #5 Oklahoma State over #12 Oregon, #11 St. Mary’s over #6 Memphis, #2 Duke over #3 Michigan State

Four Questions About the Midwest Region

Louisville is the odds-on favorite to not just advance out of the Midwest Region, but win the National Championship. Which team has the best chance at dashing Louisville’s title hopes?

Does Pitino Have Another One of These In His Immediate Future? (Getty Images)

Does Pitino Have Another One of These In His Immediate Future? (Getty Images)

Andrew Murawa: After giving the Cards the nod as the overall #1 seed, the selection committee certainly didn’t do them any more favors, dropping them in, what is to me, the toughest region in the bracket. Once they get out of the Round of 64 in this region, Rick Pitino’s club could be facing nothing but dangerous clubs, from the nation’s best rebounding team in Colorado State, to one of the nation’s hottest teams in Saint Louis, to possibly Michigan State or Duke in the Elite Eight. All of those teams can beat the Cards. But the team with the best chance is certainly the Blue Devils, a squad that has already beaten them this season, albeit without Gorgui Dieng.

The #8 vs. #9 game is usually a coin-flip type of game, but it is a 100% consensus that Colorado State beats Missouri. Are the Rams that much better than Missouri?

Zach Hayes: The Rams are by no means world-beaters, but the consensus opinion probably stems from their ability to compete where Missouri excels: on the boards. Colorado State ranks in the nation’s top two in both offensive and defensive rebounding, a glass-crashing tenacity which should work to negate the rebounding prowess of both Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers. The confidence also resides in how shaky Missouri has been at the tail end of close games despite featuring an elite point guard in Phil Pressey. Most bracket prognosticators would rather go to war with a Rams team starting five seniors over Missouri’s constant unpredictability away from home, where their only scalps came against the dregs of the SEC.

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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday Night

Posted by BHayes on March 19th, 2013

The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament begins tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the first two games this evening.

#16 North Carolina A&T vs. #16 Liberty — Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.

John Caleb Sanders Continuing His Hot-Shooting Ways Would Be A Huge Boost For The Flames In Dayton

John Caleb Sanders Continuing His Hot-Shooting Ways Would Be A Huge Boost For The Flames In Dayton

Nothing says NCAA Tournament like a match-up between North Carolina A&T and Liberty now, does it? Like it or not, the First Four is the official tip-off for the Big Dance, and this year’s opening act pits the tournament champions from the MEAC against one of the unlikeliest Big Dance participants ever –- the 15-20 Liberty Flames. The Big South Champs aren’t the only party crashers here, however.  Having entered the MEAC tournament under .500 and as the #7 seed, A&T was nearly as long a shot to make this field. The Aggies are easily the worst offensive team in this field of 68, choosing instead (a generous explanation) to hang their hat on the defensive end, where they rank 81st nationally in defensive efficiency. Springy senior Austin Witter is the key to the stingy defense, having blocked 11.8% of opponents two-point field goal attempts, the 16th highest rate in the country. Unfortunately for he and the Aggies, Liberty does most of their offensive work from beyond the arc and at the line. With guards John Caleb SandersDavon Marshall and Tavares Speaks all averaging at least 13.0 PPG, Liberty has proven to be a capable offensive unit, especially of late. The same praise cannot be afforded their defense, however, as LIU-Brooklyn is the only team in the field with a worse defensive efficiency rating than the Flames. So yes, it will be a titanic battle between Liberty’s 303d ranked defense and NC A&T’s 317th ranked offense. Ultimately though, I think the difference-making happens when Liberty has the ball. A&T’s tough defense notwithstanding, we like the Flames to continue their hot shooting and extend a postseason life that they could have never expected to have.

The RTC Certified PickLiberty

 #11 Middle Tennessee vs. #11 Saint Mary’s — Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 9:10 pm ET on truTV.

If Middle Tennessee Has Anything To Say About It, Matthew Dellavedova Will Be Donning The Saint Mary's Jersey For A Final Time Tuesday Night

If Middle Tennessee Has Anything To Say About It, Matthew Dellavedova Will Be Donning The Saint Mary’s Jersey For A Final Time Tuesday Night

The nightcap on Tuesday features two of the final teams to make the NCAA Tournament field, with Middle Tennessee and Saint Mary’s facing off for the chance to meet Memphis on Thursday in Auburn Hills. The Gaels are no strangers to the big stage, as Matthew Dellavedova and company are making their third appearance in the last four years. Saint Mary’s shoots the ball both well and often from deep. The Gaels convert on 37% of their tries from distance, with those points accounting for nearly a third of their total points scored this season. Dellavedova is the leading scorer and unquestioned leader of this bunch, but Stephen Holt and Beau Levesque are both double-figure scorers capable of carrying the offensive load for a night. Middle Tennessee is not a bad offensive team in its own right (73rd nationally in offensive efficiency), but Kermit Davis has concocted a decidedly different recipe for success. Do not be surprised if you see 11 different Blue Raiders touch the floor on Tuesday night, and among that group are seven players who average at least six points a contest, with just one (Marcos Knight at 12.5 PPG) in double-figures. The Middle Tennessee depth is clearly impressive, and it has also helped the Blue Raiders on the defensive end. Middle Tennessee is 20th nationally in defensive efficiency, also ranking in the top-25 in a slew of important defensive categories. The most relevant of those metrics for its match-up with the Gaels is three-point percentage defense, where MTSU ranks 14th nationally, allowing just 29.5% shooting from behind the arc. It’s a particularly damning piece of evidence for believers in the Gaels, and the Middle Tennessee statistical profile would suggest that the Blue Raiders have more than just a fighting chance in this one. Call me a sucker for the sentimental story, but despite the aforementioned statistical evidence, I can’t pick against Saint Mary’s here. A brilliant career lives to see another day, as Dellavedova is the difference in what could be a thriller in Dayton.

The RTC Certified Pick:  Saint Mary’s

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Bracket Prep: Midwest Region Analysis

Posted by BHayes on March 18th, 2013

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Throughout Monday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (9 AM), Midwest (11 AM), South (1 PM), West (3 PM). Here, Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCmidwestregion).

You can also check out our RTC Podblast with Bennet breaking down the Midwest Region, which will drop both on the site and on iTunes Tuesday.

Midwest Region

Favorite: #1 Louisville (29-5, 17-4 Big East). It stands to reason that the top overall seed in the field is also the favorite to emerge from the Midwest Region. No team enters the NCAA Tournament hotter than Louisville, winners of 10 straight games and 13 of 14. Consider the Cards’ dominant second half of the Big East Tournament championship game a final warning for this field of 68 – there is no scarier team in this tournament.

"No Sleep Until Atlanta" For Siva, Pitino And The Rest Of The Louisville Cardinals, Your #1 Overall Seed

No Sleep Until Atlanta For Siva, Pitino And The Rest Of The Louisville Cardinals, Your #1 Overall Seed

Should They Falter: #2 Duke (27-5, 14-5 ACC). It’s been a quiet few days for the Blue Devils, as the weekend’s ACC discussion largely revolved around Miami. But there they lurk at the bottom of the Midwest Region, poised as ever for a March sprint. Let’s not forget that the Devils’ ACC Tournament loss to Maryland was the first time Duke had lost with a healthy Ryan Kelly, and the senior’s clean bill of health is a far greater blessing for the Blue Devils than a #1 seed ever could have been. Duke also owns a victory over Louisville from back in November, albeit one with an asterisk attached – Cardinal big man Gorgui Dieng missed the Battle 4 Atlantis title game. For now though, Coach K and company are happy to let Louisville absorb all the buzz as the region’s favorite, while the dangerous Blue Devils attempt to navigate a manageable road to Indianapolis.

Grossly Overseeded: #6 Memphis (30-4, 19-0 Conference USA). Bracket projections had the Tigers anywhere between a #6 and a #9 seed. Josh Pastner’s team maxed out its seed line by receiving the #6, but now comes the hard part – beating an NCAA Tournament team. Memphis did that just once in the regular season (a win over #14 seed Harvard), a rare gap in the resume for any team in the field, much less a team so highly seeded. Let’s put it this way — Middle Tennessee, the most controversial at-large selection in this field and a potential Third Round opponent of the Tigers, had two more victories over NCAA teams, and just one more loss than Memphis. That’s not to say that the Blue Raiders are a better team than Memphis (although perhaps we will get to find that out), but you get the point.   

Grossly Underseeded: #12 Oregon (26-8, 15-6 Pac-12). Likely the most underseeded team in the entire field. Sure, the Ducks slogged their way to the finish line of the regular season, but the return of Dominic Artis and an impressive three-game run to win the Pac-12 Tournament had most bracketologists predicting a spot in an #8/#9 game for Oregon. Committee chair Mike Bobinski admitted that the Ducks were actually on the #11 seed line and had to be moved down as a result of logistical issues elsewhere in the bracket, but either way, this team is better than their double-digit seed would indicate.

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Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s Again For All the Marbles

Posted by CNguon on March 11th, 2013

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

This will be the fifth straight year of a dramatic showdown in the West Coast Conference tournament between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. On the line tonight, as it has been in four previous showdowns, is an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament – something that means more for Saint Mary’s than Gonzaga.

The Zags are darlings of the basketball world this year, reeling off 30 wins (a school record) and earning a #1 national ranking. Their participation as a high seed in the NCAA tourney is a given, with many pundits according them a #1 seed in the West Region. They want to give themselves every chance to maximize their standing, however, and can’t afford to stumble over the Gaels. Many so-called experts are pooh-poohing the Zags’ accomplishments because, they say, going 16-0 in the WCC pales in comparison to battling through a Big East, ACC or Big Tem season. Those people overlook the Zags’ 5-0 record against teams in the Big 12 (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor and West Virginia), which indicates they’d fare pretty well in a Power Six conference.

For the fifth straight year, these two guys meet up to decide the WCC tournament crown.

For the fifth straight year, these two guys meet up to decide the WCC tournament crown.

Saint Mary’s faces the specter of dismissal to the NIT if they fail to win the automatic bid, however. That fate befell them after losing to Gonzaga in the WCC championship games in 2009 and 2011, and they got to the NCAAs only by defeating the Zags in 2010 and last year. Many bracketologists contend the Gaels will be in whether they win or lose tonight because they finished the WCC regular season with a 14-2 record, losing only to Gonzaga, defeated Creighton in a BracketBuster game and escaped the WCC Tourney semifinals with a gut-wrenching 69-66 overtime win over San Diego on Saturday. But Randy Bennett’s boys have experienced the kick in the gut that comes with an NCAA rejection and don’t want to put their fate in the hands of the selection committee.

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WCC Tourney Has Different Significance For Different Gaels

Posted by CNguon on March 8th, 2013

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference. He is in Las Vegas this weekend for the WCC Tournament.

During last year’s West Coast Conference Tournament, Jordan Guisti was an onlooker. Redshirting his freshman year at Saint Mary’s, Guisti could only sit in street clothes as his teammates sweated out wins over San Francisco and Gonzaga to earn the WCC title and an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament. There will be no street clothes for Guisti this year, however, as he has emerged as a vital cog in Randy Bennett’s Gael machine. Should Saint Mary’s win its way to the tournament championship game for the fifth year in a row, and should its opponent be Gonzaga for the fifth straight time, Guisti will be on the floor guarding one of the Zags’ point guards, either all-WCC three-point whiz Kevin Pangos or super-sub David Stockton, son of the legendary John Stockton. As Saint Mary’s prepared for the weekend’s showdown in the WCC semifinals on Saturday, Guisti reflected on last year’s introduction to the tournament and his different role this year.

Gael stalwarts Mitchell Young and Matthew Dellavedova, on the right above, have been together since playing youth basketball in Australia. They are pictured at a 2007 match between Australia and New Zealand featuring another Gael star, Patty Mills. Also pictured next to Young is Kate Gaze, who plays for the Saint Mary's women's team, and Jorden Page, who came to Saint Mary's with Dellavedova and Young. In the row behind them looking over Gaze's shoulder in a baseball cap is Clint Steindl, another Aussie who starred for Saint Mary's.

Gael stalwarts Mitchell Young and Matthew Dellavedova, on the right (front row), have been together since playing youth basketball in Australia. They are pictured at a 2007 match between Australia and New Zealand featuring another Gael star, Patty Mills. Also pictured next to Young is Kate Gaze, who plays for the Saint Mary’s women’s team, and Jorden Page, who came to Saint Mary’s with Dellavedova and Young. In the row behind them looking over Gaze’s shoulder in a baseball cap is Clint Steindl, another Aussie who starred for Saint Mary’s. (credit: K. Gaze)

“It was pretty crazy,” Guisti recalled of the scene in the Orleans Arena last year, which was packed for the championship game with, seemingly, 7,000 Gonzaga fans and maybe 500 rooting for the opponent. “There was just an overwhelming number of Gonzaga fans,” he said, although he gave some props to his alma mater’s smaller but no-less-enthusiastic contingent. “Saint Mary’s fans are loud, and they were near our bench so we knew they were there.” Indicating the confidence that has propelled him into the Gaels’ lineup, Guisti said he envisioned himself on the floor as he watched last year’s games from the sidelines. “I remember thinking, ‘Next year that will be me out there.’” It’s next year, and Guisti will definitely be out there.

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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on March 6th, 2013

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

WCC Tournament Preview

Untitled

Is there anything else to the WCC Tournament this week (March 6-11) in Las Vegas besides the official coronation of Gonzaga as absolute masters of the league and lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?

Maybe, maybe not.

No doubt the format of the WCC tourney favors the Zags, as they won’t play until Saturday and will most likely face the winner of a Santa Clara/San Francisco tussle on Friday. The Zags fared better against Santa Clara than they did against San Francisco in the conference season, holding off a spirited upset bid in Santa Clara before winning 81-74, then demolishing the Broncos at home last week, 85-42.

Against San Francisco, the Zags won by “only” 14 at home (66-52), then ended a three-year history of losing in San Francisco by topping the Dons 71-61 on their home court. Whichever team survives the quarterfinals will be a heavy underdog against Gonzaga, as the Zags have been gaining momentum and can’t wait for the NCAA Tournament to begin to cement the #1 national ranking accorded them this week by both the AP and the USA Today/Coaches polls. Pencil Gonzaga in for the tournament championship game on Monday before a nationwide ESPN audience at 6:00 PM Pacific time.

The play of Kelly Olynk and Matthew Dellavedova will be key in deciding the eventual WCC tournament champion

The play of Kelly Olynyk and Matthew Dellavedova will be key in deciding the WCC tournament champ

But who will they face in that game, and will it be a meaningful contest? Read the rest of this entry »

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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 27th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Appreciating Assets – Solid weeks by Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, plus a rebound by Santa Clara, marked the WCC’s next-to-last week in the regular season. All three teams enjoyed a rise in prospects, although the degree of ascent differed greatly.

Gonzaga, by tearing through Santa Clara (85-42) and San Diego (81-50) while #2 Miami sleepwalked through a pasting (80-65) from lowly Wake Forest, moved into the #2 position in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls, the highest ranking ever for the Bulldogs. It is of a piece with a dazzling season that has seen, among other triumphs: a return to the top of the WCC after Saint Mary’s won the undisputed title last year; the highest number of regular-season wins in its history (27), with two conference games to go; and an undefeated conference record, only the third time in its history as a Division I team if it holds up. In addition, it is a given among most bracketologists that Gonzaga is a compelling favorite to be the #1 West seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, meaning the Zags will make an easy trip from Spokane to San Jose or Salt Lake City for the opening two rounds of the tournament.

Could the nation's #1 overall ranking be in the cards for Kevin Pangos, Kelly Olynyk and Gonzaga? (Getty)

Could the nation’s #1 overall ranking be in the cards for Kevin Pangos, Kelly Olynyk and Gonzaga? (Getty)

Saint Mary’s may have removed itself from the shadow of the NCAA Bubble Watch by defeating BYU (74-67) and Creighton (74-66) at home last week, giving the Gaels a much-needed quality win over the previously high-ranked Creighton Bluejays and moving them into #23 in the Coaches poll. Of course, with the Gaels this year nothing comes easily, so the favorable comments on their chances are couched in must-dos: win the remaining two games on the WCC schedule (Pepperdine on the road and Santa Clara at home), and get to the finals of the WCC Tournament March 6-11 in Las Vegas. In a comment on the Darwinian nature of the competition for at-large berths in the NCAA Tourney, Creighton may have fallen from lock status to bubble team itself with the loss to Saint Mary’s.

Santa Clara, which has had more ups and downs than perhaps any 20-game winner in the country, could have taken an eight-count against Portland last Saturday after being eviscerated by Gonzaga two nights earlier. The 45-point loss to the Zags was its worst since 1998, but the Broncos rebounded for a 75-63 win over Portland and a sweep of that series to go with three other sweeps – against Pepperdine, San Francisco and San Diego. The latter sweep is important because the Broncos have a two-game lead over the Toreros with two games to go in a race for fourth place and a bye in the first round of the WCC Tournament. Third place is not out of the Broncos’ reach, as they enter the last week just one game behind BYU.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (14-0, 27-2): The Zags are not just defeating conference foes these days, they are annihilating them. That is not good news for upcoming opponents BYU, in Provo on Feb. 28, and Portland, in Spokane on March 2. BYU might be playing for its last shot at an at-large NCAA berth, but even a gritty effort against Saint Mary’s came up short and the Cougars may not have enough left in the tank to stall an onrushing Gonzaga. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 19th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Then There Was One: Gonzaga romped past its most challenging week in WCC play, throttling Saint Mary’s, 77-60, and holding off San Francisco, 71-61, and left little drama for the remainder of the conference season. The Zags have a moderately difficult game in Provo on February 28 against BYU, following what should be two routine wins at home against Santa Clara and San Diego, and one could make a case that BYU will be desperate for a season-saving win. Even if BYU pulls off the upset, however, it will be too late to do the Zags any harm, either to their conference standing or their national reputation. The win over Saint Mary’s gave them an effective two-game lead (the Zags have a final game on March 2 against barely-competitive Portland to bring their conference record in line with Saint Mary’s), and it would take a monumental collapse to overcome that. Not going to happen.

Kelly Olynyk was his usual dominant self against the Gaels (USA Today)

Kelly Olynyk was his usual dominant self against the Gaels. (USA Today)

Although it ended in anti-climax with the Zags outscoring the Gaels 21-8 over the last six minutes after Saint Mary’s pulled to within four at 56-52 on a Matthew Dellavedova three-pointer, the Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga contest was not without its drama. For one thing the setting was college basketball tension at its best, with a packed and fevered McKeon Pavilion urging on the Gaels. As Saint Mary’s fought back from an early deficit behind Dellavedova’s 19 first-half points, the building seemed about to explode when Jordan Guisti’s three-pointer gave Saint Mary’s its first lead, 33-30, with less than two seconds left in the half. It would have made an interesting scientific experiment: How much noise can a crowd of some 3,500 crammed into a smallish gymnasium create? There was no personal conversation possible, just a wall of ear-thumping sound reverberating in the building.

The Gaels would take a one-point lead into the break after two Kevin Pangos free throws, but in the end it was too much Kelly Olynyk, whose 17 points and seven rebounds do not adequately describe his dominance. Olynyk had his hands on seemingly every rebound, batted ball and misdirected pass in the game, keeping offensive sets alive, disrupting passing lanes and scoring when necessary. He was, literally, larger than life in Moraga and that meant death for the Gaels and their chances of defending their WCC championship of a year ago.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (12-0, 25-2): The Zags will be forgiven if they were watching for the two national polls on Monday, as they had a chance to move up in both the AP and USA Today/Coaches Polls. They did move up on AP, from five to three, but held at three in the USA Today poll. All of college basketball was watching the Saint Mary’s game to judge the Zags in a difficult situation, and their performance should have removed all doubts.  Read the rest of this entry »
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Who Won The Week? Allen Crabbe, Kevin Ollie and a Marist Transfer

Posted by CNguon on February 15th, 2013

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.

WINNER: California

The Golden Bears stormed Tucson on Sunday and came out on the better half of a 77-67 game, with special thanks to the Pac-12’s leading scorer, Allen Crabbe, who poured in 31 points. With 15 points in the first half, Crabbe came up strong again Thursday night as Cal dismantled UCLA in Berkeley to keep its undefeated record at home in Pac-12 play. Despite a four-loss non-conference schedule, the Bears have managed to play themselves back into the discussion for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Not bad considering that they were 3-4 fewer than three weeks ago.

Allen Crabbe had a week to remember. (Icon SMI)

Allen Crabbe had a week to remember. (Icon SMI)

(Related winners: Crabbe, who combined for 57 points in the two games; Oregon, which regained the conference lead it lost after a three-game losing streak including a loss to Cal. Related losers: Arizona – see below.)

LOSER: Arizona

After a foot injury to Oregon point guard Dominic Artis derailed the Ducks and led to a three-game losing streak and a gift of the Pac-12 lead to the Wildcats, they decided to give it right back with a pair of bad losses, stumbling at home to Cal before losing the return game against Colorado a month after a controversial buzzer-beater was disallowed and Arizona rolled in overtime to stay undefeated at the time. This time, the Buffaloes left no doubt about who would win, cruising to a 71-58 win. The Wildcats shot at an even 40 percent clip over the week, while Cal shot 59 percent and Colorado 50 percent. So much for having control over the conference.

(Related winners: Oregon. Related losers: None.)

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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 14th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Walk-on Wonders – There are many undiscovered threads in any college basketball season, but one of the most significant hidden stories in this year’s WCC race is the role that walk-ons have played in the battle between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga for conference supremacy. By now everyone (or at least everyone who has viewed an ESPN telecast) knows the story of Gonzaga’s hard-nosed redshirt senior forward, Mike Hart. A walk-on through friendship with some of Gonzaga’s scholarship players, Hart eventually worked his way into a starting position and, for a brief time, a scholarship of his own (he gave it up this year to facilitate a bumper crop of recruits). He doesn’t score much in his 16 or so minutes per game – he’s made 14 of 23 shots this year – but he affects the game through dogged work on defense and the boards.

Jordan Giusti has proved that hard work and dedication goes pay off (Saint Mary's athletics)

Jordan Giusti has proved that hard work and dedication goes pay off (Saint Mary’s athletics)

Hart has an analogue in Saint Mary’s redshirt junior forward Beau Levesque. Lightly recruited after a stellar career at East Bay powerhouse De La Salle High School, Levesque was a walk-on with an agenda – to become an integral part of Randy Bennett’s program. He made a splash in the Gaels’ Sweet Sixteen run in 2010, playing in all three NCAA tournament games, then sweated out his sophomore year with surgeries on both hips. As a redshirt sophomore last year he showed more promise in nearly 10 minutes per game, but he has blossomed this season into an outright star and potential all-WCC performer, averaging 11.0 PPG and 4.5 RPG in a little more than 20 minutes per game. He has had outbursts of 24 points on 6-of-7 three-point shooting against Santa Clara and 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting against San Diego.

For pure rags-to-riches drama, however, it doesn’t get any better than the story of Saint Mary’s other premier walk-on, redshirt freshman guard Jordan Giusti. Giusti was another East Bay standout (San Ramon Valley High School, alma mater of the Gaels’ Omar Samhan) who fell under everyone’s scouting radar except Bennett’s, and the Saint Mary’s coach thought enough of Giusti to ask him to redshirt his freshman year – unusual for a walk-on. He made a big splash in the Gaels’ December 31 home game against Harvard, showing down Harvard’s excellent freshman guard Siyani Chambers, and eventually forcing a turnover against Chambers that played a key part in the Gaels’ 70-69 victory. He has since become an indispensable part of the Gaels’ attack, giving Bennett a defensive stopper and allowing the coach to rest the other Gael guards, including do-everything whiz Matthew Dellavedova. With Giusti contributing in every game, Bennett has a more rested and versatile guard tandem than in any time in the past several years as the conference race goes down to the wire.

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