Morning Five: 02.08.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 8th, 2011

  1. The Mountain West has received a lot of attention this year due to the excellent play of top ten teams San Diego State and BYU and, of course, the NPOY candidacy of the Cougars’ Jimmer Fredette.  Yesterday the attention on the league was of a different sort, though, as Wyoming, dead last in the league standings at 1-8, fired head coach Heath Schroyer after three-plus seasons at the helm.  This move comes after the Cowboys lost its seventh consecutive game on Saturday, a three-point home loss to Colorado State.  Schroyer was 49-68 during his tenure in Laramie, with his best season coming in 2008-09 as Wyoming went 19-14 (7-9 MWC) and made the NIT.
  2. Ugh.  Oklahoma State forward Darrell Williams was charged with three counts of rape and one of sexual battery on Monday stemming from an incident in December where he allegedly assaulted two women at a party.  The junior college transfer has given head coach Travis Ford a solid season, averaging 7/7 in twelve starts and around 21 minutes per game, but according to the coach, he will be held out of the lineup and practice until his legal issues are resolved.  His preliminary hearing is scheduled for the first week in March, which probably means that Williams’ season is effectively over.  OSU has been playing better of late, beating Missouri and Oklahoma to get back to the middle of the Big 12 pack, but any further push will be that much more difficult without the sometime-starter available to bang bodies down low.
  3. Dan Wiederer delves further into the phenomenon known as Kendall Marshall going for a record sixteen assists in UNC’s destruction of Florida State over the weekend.   We didn’t know, for example, that Marshall has a tendency to pull a Bill Russell during halftime of games, but we do now and we’re quite sure that Roy Williams will provide the rookie with his own four-year supply of barf bags if he keeps dropping double-figure dimes the rest of the season.
  4. A new Monday meant another version of Seth Davis’ Hoop Thoughts.  In this week’s edition, he deplores the fly-by-night departure of Larry Drew II from the program (blaming Drew’s mother more than his famous father), St. John’s as the most interesting bubble team at this point, and a Kyrie Irving update that you haven’t seen anywhere else.
  5. The ten final candidates for the Bob Cousy Award given to the nation’s top point guard were announced on Monday, and there were a couple of surprising omissions.  The complete list is below, but as Mike Miller at Beyond the Arc points out, there’s really no legitimate excuse for leaving out Xavier’s Tu Holloway and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor.  Both players have been outstanding for their respective teams, and outside of the NPOY candidates Fredette, Smith and Walker, arguably better than any of the other names on this list.
  • Norris Cole, Cleveland State
  • Corey Fisher, Villanova
  • Jimmer Fredette, BYU
  • D.J. Gay, San Diego State
  • Brandon Knight, Kentucky
  • Demetri McCamey, Illinois
  • Mickey McConnell, St. Mary’s
  • Nolan Smith, Duke
  • Isaiah Thomas, Washington
  • Kemba Walker, UConn
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Constructing The Perfect College Basketball Player

Posted by zhayes9 on February 4th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.

Every college basketball player has flaws. Even the scoring leaders, double-double producers and faces of blueblood programs have portions of their game open to exploitation. For all of Jimmer Fredette’s heroic shooting performances, there’s the flat-footedness he sometimes shows on the defensive end of the floor. For every time Kemba Walker splits a ball screen and tear-drops a beautiful floater through the depths of the net, there’s questions abound regarding the reliability of his outside shot. For these numerous transformative qualities that make the cream of the crop in college basketball so memorable, no 21-year old can possibly have perfected his overall hoops arsenal.

That’s where I come into play. Working tirelessly for hours with the MIT Science and Engineering departments this week, I’ve successfully capitalized on the celebrated strengths and disposed of the much-critiqued flaws of some of our favorite players into one finished product. It is my honor and privilege to present my final creation: the perfect college basketball player.

David Lighty's defense adds another dimension to our perfect player

Pure Scoring Ability of Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins– No player in college basketball can put the ball in the hole with as much variety and skill as Jenkins. The Queens native and two-time Haggerty Award winner as the top talent in the New York area will go down as the greatest player in Hofstra basketball history and one of the top scorers in CAA history. Jenkins’ efficiency totals are off the charts: 21st in offensive rating, 43rd in effective FG% and 14th in true shooting percentage and his raw numbers (23.3 PPG, 54% FG, 42% 3pt) are doubly impressive when one considers there’s only one other double-digit scorer on the Pride and, as a result, Jenkins has to deal with endless double and triple teams from opposing defenses. Jenkins shows an equal propensity and efficiency both driving to the basket and drawing contact (161 free throw attempts already this season) while defenses must also respect a pinpoint outside shot. Jenkins could play, start and contribute for any program in the nation, but his unwavering loyalty to the Hofstra program through losing seasons and coaching changes only renders Jenkins college career even more extraordinary.

Defense of Ohio State’s David Lighty– There were other candidates that certainly could have qualified for this specific trait, but the experience of a fifth year senior, his winning credentials and the aptitude to guard multiple positions were the main reasons Lighty received the nod. Folks tout Lighty as the ultimate glue guy, but he’s so much more than that because of his defensive prowess. Lighty can effectively guard a scoring point guard with the shot clock winding down or contain a bruising power forward in the lane with the same excellence. He has a remarkable ability to corral loose balls, take timely charges, collect steals without gambling and quickly transfer from defense to transition. There isn’t a smarter player who’s seen more different situations under the spotlight in his five years in Columbus than Lighty.

Versatility of Arizona’s Derrick Williams– There’s not a tougher player in America to guard than Derrick Williams because of his ability to score from any place on the basketball court. The raw numbers are, frankly, staggering: 19.9 PPG on 64% FG and 24-35 3pt. Williams not only possesses solid post fundamentals and a variety of scoring moves on the block, but he’s also lethal facing the basket and operating in the mid-range game all the way to the perimeter and beyond. The sophomore forward is also wildly efficient and supremely intelligent, showing tremendous awareness, a high IQ, length and athleticism. This makes Williams nearly impossible to contain once he touches the rock. His operational ability both around the rim and on the perimeter is the ideal blend of versatility we need.

Craftiness of BYU’s Jimmer Fredette– Combining the pure scoring ability of Jenkins with the overall offensive repertoire and craftiness of Fredette would certainly be something to behold. Unless you’ve been trapped under a rock the last two weeks, The Jimmer has become the face of the sport for his previously unimaginable shooting displays. How Fredette collects his 40+ point performances without even breaking a sweat has to be witnessed to truly appreciate. First there’s a spin move and a scoop in the lane amongst the trees. Then there’s a hesitation dribble, killer crossover and explosion to the rim for an and-1. Respect the drive and he’ll pull up in a split second for a dagger three from NBA range. There are no limits on the basketball court for Fredette on the offensive end. This year’s frontrunner for National Player of the Year has the intelligence and scoring craftiness that’s simply unmatched on the collegiate level today.

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The Week That Was: Jan. 25-Jan. 31

Posted by jstevrtc on February 1st, 2011

David Ely is an RTC Contributor 


It’s Feb. 1. That means there’s only 40 days left until Selection Sunday, or 40 days left for teams to build up their resume so their bubble doesn’t pop. We’re sure there are going to be a lot of heated discussions about teams hovering within that last four in-last four out zone over the next six weeks. Heck, here at TWTW, we’ll probably change our opinion on certain squads three  or four times until the end of the regular season. It should be a crazy six weeks, but we know it’s going to be fun.  

What We learned

After a weekend that saw 13 ranked teams lose (and the entire top 25 go 22-20 for the week, as Seth Davis pointed out on the chic thing to do is talk about the gigantic bulging central part of the bell curve that symbolizes this college basketball season. It’s nearly impossible to make sense of who’s good and who’s bad on a weekly basis, as a team is liable to have a monumental win one night and then lose to a lesser school a few days later. Let’s use Georgetown as an example. Just over two weeks ago the Hoyas were a mess at 1-4 in the Big East and losers of four of their previous five games. Now, they’ve won five in a row, including recent triumphs at Villanova and at home against Louisville. Georgetown isn’t the only school that enjoys playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Check out this paragraph from Davis’ Monday column

“Texas can lose at USC and then win at Kansas. Tennessee, which should be this movie’s poster child, can win at Villanova and Pitt (at the Consol Energy Center) and lose to College of Charleston and Charlotte. Louisville loses at home to Drexel but beats UConn on the road. Providence loses to LaSalle but beats Louisville and Villanova. Auburn loses to Samford, Campbell and Presbyterian, but it beats Florida State, which later beats Duke. What, you didn’t know Presbyterian was better than Duke? And on Sunday, St. John’s (which lost to Fordham) blew out Duke.” 

Given all this uncertainty, can anyone honestly say with any assurance that there’s a clear-cut elite set of teams? Ohio State might be undefeated, but the Buckeyes have had their fair share of nail biters over ho-hum teams (Michigan, Penn State, and most recently, Northwestern). TWTW would like to put its eggs into Texas’ basket. The Longhorns are this week’s Team du Jour, having torched four ranked teams in the last 13 days, but you wouldn’t be shocked if Texas didn’t have a hiccup or two to an unranked team before the season’s end, would you?

This Tristan Thompson-Nathan Walkup Encounter Accurately Summarizes Texas' Throttling of the Aggies Last Night (B. Sullivan/Dallas Morning News)

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The Other 26: Week 11

Posted by KDoyle on January 28th, 2011


We are just about halfway through the conference schedules and the true contenders are beginning to reveal themselves, while the pretenders are wallowing away after deceiving the country for so many weeks. Take a team like Central Florida, for instance. They looked like a legitimate top 25 team and a definite candidate for an at-large berth after breezing through the non-conference with an unblemished record, but their 1-5 record in Conference USA makes that great run in the non-conference all for naught. Conversely, take a gander at Duquesne. The Dukes went a modest 8-5 in the non-conference with losses to Robert Morris and George Mason, but have gone onto take the Atlantic 10 by storm. Suffice to say, it is hard to gauge just how good some teams are based solely on the non-conference. Some coaches will elect to challenge their team by scheduling a tough OOC schedule, while others will stockpile a bunch of cupcakes to pick up easy wins. The distinction between the pretenders and contenders will continue to be illuminated all the way up until the conference tournaments. Up until then, we sit and watch teams rise above expectations heading into conference play and watch others flounder.

The Other 26 Rankings

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ATB: The Day After

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2011

The Lede. Hopefully everyone was over their Jimmer hangovers by the time the games started tonight. Judging by Twitter, and…well, pretty much every sports outlet in the nation, the transitive verb “to Jimmer” has entered the American sporting lexicon with some serious impact. We can’t remember when a college baller’s name has ever been used in this fashion; nobody ever said “You got Turnered/Walled,” or “He Morrisoned them,” or “They Hansbrough’d the heck out of that poor team.” And the only name we can think of that contains a reverent “The” at the beginning that’s in regular use today belongs to U2 guitarist The Edge, though — and credit to Seth Davis for starting the trend — “The Jimmer” is now commonplace usage in referring to just about everybody’s favorite player.

Darius Morris and Crew Start the Celebration (J.Gonzalez/Detroit FP)

But enough of that for now. We’ll have many chances to discuss him later. Tonight we saw three tough conference road wins, two of them in games involving bitter rivals. We have a couple of RTCs we have to weigh in on, and a pair of outstanding tweets from the Gonzaga vs St. Mary’s game. First, though, we start…with Sparty.

Your Watercooler Moment. On the halftime coverage of ESPN2’s St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga game, when asked about how dire the situation was for Michigan State this year after their loss to Michigan tonight, even the understated Dan Dakich hesitated for effect and said gravely, “Well…it’s pretty serious.”

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Set Your Tivo: 01.27.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 27th, 2011

***** – 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.

Tonight we highlight the little guys. First place is on the line in the Colonial while St. Mary’s looks to widen its lead in the WCC. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Hofstra @ VCU – 7 pm on ESPNU (***)

VCU Will Need a Little More From Rodriguez This Evening

Both teams are tied atop the CAA at 8-1 but the Rams are the favorite here at home where they’re undefeated on the year. VCU has lost only twice at home in the last three years and both defeats were to the same team: Northeastern. Shaka Smart’s team loves to shoot the three, but is missing a key part of that attack with Brandon Rozzell out due to a broken hand. Without Rozzell in the fold, VCU will turn to Joey Rodriguez and Bradford Burgess for the bulk of their three point shooting. Rodriguez is coming off a season high 28 points at Towson while Burgess is making 44% of his threes this season. Against a Hofstra defense ranked #290 against the trey, you can bet VCU will be firing up plenty of them tonight, as they usually do.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 27th, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • Mighty Gonzaga, which had lost only six conference games in the previous five years, lost twice on a trip to Bay Area schools Santa Clara (85-71) on Thursday and San Francisco (96-91 OT) two nights later. The 14-point loss to Santa Clara was Gonzaga’s worst loss to a WCC opponent in the regular season since 1999, although the Zags were drubbed 81-62 by Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament Championship game last March.
  • Portland, which had been gaining traction as a potential third-place conference finisher, also went down to both Bay Area schools. The WCC standings following the weekend seemed out of joint, with Saint Mary’s on top at 5-0, San Francisco in second at 4-1 and Gonzaga tied for third with Santa Clara at 3-2. Portland finds itself tied for fifth with Pepperdine at 2-3, with Loyola Marymount in seventh at 1-4 and San Diego in last place at 0-5.
  • Loyola Marymount’s descent has been almost as rapid as Gonzaga’s. Picked by WCC coaches to finish second ahead of Saint Mary’s, the Lions fell to cross-beach rival Pepperdine 78-75 in the 153rd meeting between the two southern California schools on Saturday. It was Pepperdine’s 13th straight win over Loyola Marymount in Malibu and the 24th win in the last 28 matchups. There must be something about that 19-mile drive down Pacific Coast Highway that upsets the Lions.
  • Saint Mary’s retained the top spot with a tougher-than-expected 67-56 win over San Diego last Wednesday, but the Gaels’ week was ruined with an 89-70 smackdown at the hands of Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday. The loss to the Dores cost Saint Mary’s some spots in the Top 25 rankings, but they held on to the #24 spot in the ESPN coaches poll as Vandy climbed from out of the Top 25 to #22 by virtue of the win.

Player of the Week: Anyone who watched Kevin Foster’s scintillating 36-point outburst against Gonzaga on January 20 would not be surprised to see the 6’2 redshirt sophomore guard from Santa Clara garnering Player of the Week honors. Foster, who sat out the entire last season with a broken foot, came back with 19 points in the Broncos’ 72-59 win over Portland to move over the 1,000-point mark in his brief Santa Clara career. Foster is leading the country with 74 threes this season, leads the WCC scoring (22.2 PPG) and is 35th in the nation in scoring average at 19.3 points per contest.

A Look Ahead

If there is a more compelling matchup this season than Thursday’s game between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga in Spokane, I have missed it. Gonzaga, nearly impregnable on its home court, finds itself two games behind the Gaels in the conference race, with critics questioning whether its 10-year WCC reign of supremacy can be sustained.

Saint Mary’s, after gaining some national respect for its ruthless efficiency and guard-led offensive heroics, stumbled badly in last week’s warm-up against Vanderbilt. In addition, the Gaels have not won in Spokane since 1995, and have not beaten the Zags in a regular-season conference game since the 2008 season. Buoying the Gaels is hope that senior point guard Mickey McConnell will bounce back from a sub-par outing against Vanderbilt (six points on 2-9 shooting, including 0-4 from three-point range) and lead Saint Mary’s as he did in the WCC tourney championship last March. McConnell scored 26 points on 10-17 shooting that night, and also dished out six assists. Which McConnell shows up Thursday night may determine the Gaels’ fate.

If the Gaels have doubts, the Zags must be wondering who took over their previously dominant team and substituted the bunch that sleepwalked through the Santa Clara loss, then lost to San Francisco for the second year in a row. The twin Bay Area losses marked three straight defeats to WCC opponents outside of Spokane, and the Zags will be counting on a giant dose of home support to right the ship. At 13-7, with two losses in conference and difficult road games ahead at Saint Mary’s, Portland and Loyola Marymount, the Zags simply cannot afford another loss if they hope to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the 13th straight season.

Meanwhile, the suddenly invigorated remainder of the WCC takes on this week’s games with relish. New second-place holder San Francisco must be licking its chops awaiting the outcome of the Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga game and an equally tough contest for the Gaels two nights later in Portland. The Dons travel to southern California to take on shaky Loyola Marymount on Thursday and Pepperdine on Saturday. A stumble or two by Saint Mary’s and a sweep by the Dons could have far-reaching consequences as the first half of WCC play comes to a close.

Santa Clara is nursing identical hopes as San Francisco, as it travels with its Bay Area rival to the same southern California venues, facing Pepperdine on Thursday and Loyola Marymount on Saturday. Both San Francisco and Santa Clara can be forgiven if they are carrying brooms along with them to remind them of the week’s goal.

Portland also awaits a giant opportunity for redemption in the coming week, staying home to entertain a weak San Diego team on Thursday and Saint Mary’s on Saturday, following the Gaels’ gut-checking contest with Gonzaga. At 14-6 and 2-3 in conference, the Pilots certainly realize this is the time to salvage a season that seemed promising only a week ago. Should they sweep on their home floor, the Pilots might squint a little at a February 3 home encounter with Gonzaga.

San Diego comes off a rare victory, Saturday’s 76-65 toppling of Cal State Bakersfield, as it heads into the Pacific Northwest hoping to play spoiler against Portland on Thursday and Gonzaga on Saturday.

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The Other 26: Week 10

Posted by KDoyle on January 21st, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.


The week is here, long at last. Going into the season, BYU and San Diego State were projected to be strong, but this strong? Just to give you an idea of where these two juggernauts stood before the season, the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll had San Diego State receiving 73 votes and BYU 55 votes in the top 25 poll. In Zach Hayes’ Bracketology—a bracket that, in my mind, is very accurate for his latest edition—he had SDSU as a six seed and BYU a seven. Clearly, each team has exceeded many of the critics and so called experts expectations. Who would have thought that the teams would combine to have a 38-1 record at this stage of the season? Not even Steve Fisher or Dave Rose would have thought that.

In the grand scheme of things, the tilt in Provo, Utah, next week will not have an impact on whether or not either team will make the NCAA Tournament—it is a foregone conclusion that both are in—but this may be San Diego State’s biggest roadblock between them having an undefeated regular season or not. Can the magic carpet ride that San Diego State has been flying on continue, or will Jimmer Fredette and Co. take the air right out from under them? It will all go down on Wednesday evening in Provo.

The Other 26 Rankings

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The Other 26: Week 7

Posted by KDoyle on January 4th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the college basketball season is nearly half over. It is not all bad though, with conference play beginning we are just another step closer to Championship Week, Selection Sunday, and, of course, the NCAA Tournament. During this time of the year, the Other 26 and BCS largely go their separate ways, only to be reunited just two months later on the biggest stage of them all. As it is every year, the non-conference is nothing more than a tease of what is to come later. What are five major things that we learned during the first half of the year?

  • The top three teams in the Mountain West (SDSU, UNLV, BYU) will all be a force in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Gonzaga and Butler are not as dominant as they have been in past years, but both seem poised to perform well in their conference play as they drastically improved in the latter half of the non-conference schedule.
  • Temple and Richmond can go toe-to-toe with the big boys. In one week, the Owls defeated Maryland and then Georgetown, and then just weeks later they were points away from beating Villanova. As for the Spiders, they have beaten four of five BCS teams they played against.
  • Don’t sleep on Conference USA. Although the league probably will receive only two bids—maybe three—Central Florida, Memphis, Southern Mississippi, UAB and UTEP are pretty darn good.
  • The Mountain West and Atlantic 10 will combine to have more teams in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC and SEC. Okay that is a bit of a reach, but don’t be surprised if this is close to happening. Right now, the only lock in the ACC is Duke, obviously. As for the SEC, it is only Vanderbilt and Kentucky. The MWC will almost certainly have SDSU, BYU, and UNLV, and the Atlantic 10 is a bit of a crapshoot at the top. Over the last three years, however, the A10 has sent three years to the Dance in each year—food for thought.

The Other 26 Rankings

Tidbits from the Rankings

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

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

A Look Back

With the pre-conference season all wrapped up, let’s look all the way back to October and the WCC coaches poll for a reset on conference expectations. The coaches overwhelmingly picked Gonzaga to finish first, giving the Zags 48 total votes and six for first place. By a total of 42 to 39 they also picked Loyola Marymount to finish second over Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara (28 votes) to finish fourth and Portland (25 votes) fifth. How would the coaches vote if the polling were held today?

Gonzaga, with quality wins over Baylor, Marquette, Xavier and Oklahoma State, would probably retain its rank as conference favorite because no other team either matched the scope and difficulty of the Zags’ schedule, or conquered as many top-notch teams. Only Saint Mary’s, with wins over St. John’s, which might make some noise in the Big East, and Long Beach State, which could challenge for the Big West title, came close. The Gaels did post wins over two BCS teams, Texas Tech and Mississippi State, but those teams had early-season troubles that dimmed their luster.

It would be hard for WCC coaches or anyone to favor Loyola Marymount over Saint Mary’s based on results so far, and the same could be said for Santa Clara over Portland. It is safe to say that the performances of Loyola-Marymount and Santa Clara have been disappointing, while the Gaels and Pilots have surprised opposing coaches. The coaches’ early-season predictions notwithstanding, a survey of informal discussions around the league breaks down the race this way: Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s for first place; Portland in third; Loyola Marymount in fourth; Santa Clara and San Francisco in a dog fight for fifth; Pepperdine for seventh and San Diego in the cellar. Those last two match what the coaches saw in October, as neither team has done much to change perceptions.

Player(s) of the Week

Saint Mary’s senior point guard Mickey McConnell was named Player of the Week both by the West Coast Conference and after sterling efforts in Gael victories over Mississippi State and Hartford. He rocked Mississippi State for 28 points and 13 assists – his first double-double of the season – and followed that up with a 21-point, seven assist game against Hartford. The effort in the Gaels’ final two pre-conference games brought his scoring average to 14.2 ppg and assist total to 5.4 per game. McConnell’s 2.68 assist to turnover ratio is ranked 26th nationally, and he is shooting 46.3% from beyond the arc and 90.5% from the free throw line.

Power Rankings:

1. Saint Mary’s (12-2) has breezed to six wins in a row since being dusted 69-55 by San Diego State on Dec. 1, and has found its groove with a lineup featuring four players averaging double figures: Mickey McConnell at 14.2 PPG, Jones at 13.7 PPG, Matthew Dellavedova at 13 PPG, and Young (nominally a substitute, Young is garnering the majority of minutes at post) at 11.1 PPG. Clint Steindl, the fifth starter, is not far behind at 8.4 PPG, and can rightfully point to his duties as the Gaels’ primary defensive stopper as an excuse. Besides, Steindl, currently averaging nearly 42% on three-point shots, can light it up when the occasion warrants. Team balance, unselfishness and good backcourt play from McConnell and Dellavedova – averaging nearly 12 assists per game between them – have Randy Bennett smiling as league play begins.

2. Portland (12-3), also cruising with five straight wins after a lopsided 94-72 loss at Washington, has answered most of the questions critics might have raised following the loss of several quality players from last year. Yes, Luke Sikma can put up All-Conference numbers consistently at one forward spot; yes, Kramer Knutson is a steady warrior at the post position; yes, Mitrovic is ready to be a starter, possibly a star, in his junior year; yes, Jared Stohl can still scorch it from three-point land, and yes, either junior Eric Waterford, true freshman Tim Douglas or sophomore transfer Derrick Rodgers – or a combination of the three – can provide leadership at the point. Coach Eric Reveno has done his usual excellent job of molding his troops into a smooth-flowing force, ready to challenge Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s as the conference season unfolds.

3. Gonzaga (10-5), also boasting a six-game winning streak – notice a pattern here? – can actually breathe easier as the WCC gets underway. Following a whirlwind 36 hours consisting of 1) pasting formerly 11-2 and cocky Oklahoma State by 21 points (73-52) on Friday night in Spokane, and 2) flying cross-country to Winston-Salem, NC, for a 73-63 win over Wake Forest on Sunday, the Zags returned home to await Portland for an early home showdown on Saturday (1/8). Piece of cake. Mark Few has a core of Steven Gray (14.1 PPG), Robert Sacre (13.1 PPG) and Elias Harris (12.3 PPG) that is functioning smoothly enough to almost allow him to forget his trouble finding a commanding point guard. Meech Goodson, holding down the position for the third year in a row, is providing only 5.4 PPG and 3.3 assists per game, but no one else has been able to sit him down. Another troubling position for Few has been the second forward spot opposite Harris, as promising German freshman Mathis Monninghoff (there is an umlaut over the first vowel to make it sound like “Merhninghoff”), recently went down with an ankle injury after starting five straight games. Few swapped in another Mathis, this one a 6’5 freshman from France whose last name is Keita, and received a good effort in the wins over Okie State and Wake.

4. Santa Clara (9-7) is sitting in fourth place, right where the coaches predicted it to finish, but has hardly cemented its position with inconsistent pre-conference play. Zero quality wins, troubling losses such as 69-59 to Pacific and 54-53 to Delaware in its own holiday tournament, and a shifting lineup have raised questions about Kerry Keating’s squad. Kevin Foster has moved right back into a starring role after a year’s absence with injury, and Keating has uncovered another budding backcourt star in freshman Evan Roquemore. But Keating apparently has been unhappy with Marc Trasolini’s contribution in the frontcourt, bringing him off the bench instead of starting him, and sophomore Niyi Harrison is even farther down in Keating’s doghouse. That leaves the Broncos with a starting lineup of second-year forward Chris Cunningham, rugged Aussie Ben Dowdell and guard-forward Ray Cowels to go with Foster and Roquemore. Even with Trasolini contributing heavily off the bench, as he did with 22 points in the Broncos 85-70 win over Fordham on December 30, that is not a lineup calculated to challenge anyone above them. Is it strong enough to fend off Loyola-Marymount or San Francisco for fourth place in the conference standings? We’ll soon have the answer to that question.

5. Loyola Marymount (7-7) enters the 2011 conference race hobbled with injuries as it did last year. From a lineup that promised to feature 6’10 redshirt freshman Edgar Garibay, 6’8 sophomore strong forward Ashley Hamilton and 6’7 scoring whiz Drew Viney in the frontcourt, the Lions have morphed to Viney and freshman Godwin Okonji. Garibay has still not fully recovered from the ACL injury that sidelined him last year and Hamilton broke his hand a few weeks ago. To supplement the survivors, Max Good uses a three-guard lineup of super senior Vernon Teel, Big East refugee Larry Davis and newcomer Anthony Ireland, subbing for the injured Jarred DuBois. Ireland and Okonji, a 20-year-old from Nigeria who spent two years at Nevada’s Findlay Prep, are true freshmen forced into carrying a heavy load. The Lions’s pre-season-ending 87-80 road win over UC Irvine on Dec. 30 gave hints at what Good’s patched-up crew can accomplish: Viney and Teel combined for 42 points and Ireland chipped in 15 point and six assists. They will need to keep it up for the next eight weeks if the Lions are going to redeem their pre-season promise.

6. San Francisco (6-9) probably can’t take much solace from blasting Division II Dominican University 68-47 on New Year’s Day, but the Dons also topped Hampton 69-57 two days earlier to enter the conference season with a two-game win streak. Rex Walters counts on a threesome of Michael Williams, Rashad Green and Angelo Coloiaro to carry the scoring load, augmented by true freshman Cody Doolin at the point. The problem has been in the frontcourt, where Perris Blackwell and Moustapha Diarra, backed up by freshman Justin Raffington, have been inconsistent. The Dons’ hopes of moving up in the WCC standings will get an early test, as they kick off the conference race on Saturday, Jan. 8 at Santa Clara and travel the following Thursday to Saint Mary’s.

7. Pepperdine (6-11) was buoyed by an 84-64 home win on Jan. 2 over up-and-down Seattle (wins over Virginia, Oregon State and Montana State), but hope that Keion Bell’s absence from the game was only precautionary. The Waves will need a healthy Bell if they are going to emulate his YouTube antics and leap over their opponents when conference play begins.

8. San Diego (3-11) proved its harshest critics wrong with a Christmas Day win over Utah (67-64), but reverted to form on New Year’s Day with a 76-54 hammering by North Carolina State in Raleigh, NC. Those critics posited that the Toreros might not beat a Division I opponent this season (its other wins were over Occidental and LaVerne), but Bill Grier’s crew scuttled that by beating once-powerful Utah. Next order of business is adding some WCC wins to the ledger.

A Look Ahead

You don’t have to look far ahead to get some early answers to questions about possible conference standings: Saint Mary’s opens WCC play with a Thursday (January 6) battle against Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles; Portland travels to Gonzaga on Saturday (January 8); San Francisco heads up Highway 101 to Santa Clara on Saturday also; and Pepperdine entertains San Diego on Thursday and Saint Mary’s on Saturday. A couple of upset possibilities (Loyola Marymount over Saint Mary’s, Portland over Gonzaga), a key battle for fifth place (Santa Clara vs. San Francisco) and a leg up on avoiding the cellar (Pepperdine vs. San Diego) all in the first week of conference play.

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