ATB: Selected Thoughts From an Epic First Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2010

How’s Your Bracket? Of the sixteen top seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament, eight are now gone — one #1 seed, one #2 seed and three each of the #3s and #4s.   The last time that half of the top sixteen didn’t make the Sweets?  2005 (8).  Before that?  2000 (9).  So maybe this is a cyclical thing of around twice a decade, but we’ll take it.  It makes for a wild attention-getting opening weekend, and builds a buzz about the Dance that had been lacking in the last couple of years during the early rounds. In addition to that, we have a #9 (Northern Iowa), #10 (St. Mary’s), #11 (Washington) and #12 (Cornell) crashing the rarefied air of the regionals, the most teams from the lower half of the bracket to make it since 1999 when five double-digit seeds made it to the second weekend.  To the players on those four teams, they don’t care about any of that — the unlikelihood of its occurrence is lost on their youth; all they know is that they’re still playing and they believe they can continue to advance in this tournament.  And why shouldn’t they?  None of the four teams above fit the definition of an overmatched Cinderella that just happened to catch a favorite looking ahead or on a very off night.  No, these four teams have combined to win 113 games this year, and each has shown the ability to win convincingly over quality competition.  Cornell’s 13-point victory over Temple was one thing; but an 18-point pasting over Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin while scoring 87 points is quite another.  St. Mary’s knocking out a strong Richmond team was impressive; but holding Big Shot Scottie Reynolds to 2-11 from the field is a different story.  Same thing for Washington dominating a 30-win New Mexico team, and well, we’re still in astonishment over the UNI victory over Kansas on Saturday afternoon (more on this below).  It was a bracket-busting kind of weekend, and it provided more thrills and memorable moments than the last few NCAA Tournaments combined.  It’s the reason we all love this sport, and it provides additional evidence (although none is needed) that the Tourney is already in its sweet spot in terms of the right number of teams allowed to participate.  If #9 seed Northern Iowa had to play an additional game to get to #8 UNLV before a chance to take on #1 Kansas on Saturday, would they have had the legs to get past the overall top seed?  Would any of the above teams still be dancing?


Un-Farokhing-Believable.  We were among the biggest supporters of top overall seed Kansas as a dominant team that had a great shot at steamrolling to this year’s title, but Ali Farokhmanesh and Northern Iowa had other ideas.  It wasn’t enough that the Iowan with the Persian name that no major college wanted drilled a 25-foot game winner during Thursday’s first round game versus UNLV; no, he one-upped that shot with another three (“a dagger,” according to Bill Self) on a 1-on-2 fast break opportunity where the ‘smart’ play appeared to be pulling things out and running clock.  His platinum-balls three from the right wing was all net, giving UNI a four-point lead with around thirty seconds to go.  After KU’s Tyrel Reed charged on the ensuing possession, the upset was in the books, and it will go down as one of the greatest in NCAA Tournament history.  No matter what the revisionist historians will try to argue, Kansas was the prohibitive favorite to win the NCAA Tournament this season, and in the 64/65-team era, there has never been a bigger Second Round upset.  Bigger than Stanford and Kentucky in 2004, Stanford again in 2000, and yes, even Kansas’ loss to UTEP in 1993.  The difference between those teams and this one is that 2009-10 Kansas was considerably better than all of those other #1 seeds.  If you disagree that they weren’t the prohibitive favorite, send us a screen shot of where you had the Jayhawks losing.  42% of America in the ESPN Tournament Challenge had the ‘Hawks winning it all, and nearly 75% had them in the Final Four.  We would agree that it was the biggest overall upset since George Mason over #1 UConn back in 2006, but at least by that point in time we had a decent idea of what the Patriots were made of (with wins over UNC and Michigan State already).  Here, we had no idea that Ali and his Magic Panthers had in store.

Color Us Impressed…

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Boom Goes The Dynamite: Second Round 03.20.10 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on March 20th, 2010

Now it’s a party.  The first round is done.  The next 48 hours of games will define which big-time teams can handle the pressure cooker that is the Big Dance, and it will identify the Cinderellas we’ll be talking about for years.  If you’re a double-digit seed, winning one game is nice, but you don’t receive your wicked stepsisters, pumpkin coach, and glass slipper until you at least reach the Sweet 16.  Oh, you’re a big-conference bigwig?  Then the next round is still probably less than what was expected of you.  People don’t remember Second Rounders.  They remember teams that make the Sweet 16 and beyond.  The first round was fun.  But it’s over.  Here are the teams vying for the Sweet 16 on Saturday:

  • #2 Villanova vs #10 St. Mary’s
  • #5 Butler vs #13 Murray State
  • #6 Tennessee vs #14 Ohio
  • #1 Kansas vs #9 Northern Iowa
  • #3 Baylor vs #11 Old Dominion
  • #3 New Mexico vs #11 Washington
  • #2 Kansas State vs #7 Brigham Young
  • #1 Kentucky vs #9 Wake Forest

We’ll be here all day, watching the games with you.  We hope you’ll join us, and we definitely look forward to seeing you in the comments section as we all climb in to ride this rollercoaster for the third time.  See you right here about fifteen minutes before the first tip!

12:55: Here we go!  For the Sweet 16, gentlemen…let’s play!  Some interesting matchups throughout the day.  Looking especially forward to Baylor vs ODU and KSU vs BYU.  To me those look like the more intriguing games.

1:05: St. Mary’s off to a quick start!  The inside battle between Omar Samhan and Mouphtaou Yarou and/or Maurice Sutton is gonna be fun to watch.  God, Samhan looks bigger every time I see him.

1:15: I guess Jay Wright’s “minor teaching point” is over.  Samhan could not have asked for a better start to this game.  Eight points on 4-6 shooting.  SMU does not look intimidated early.  I fact, Villanova still looks like they’re getting over whatever hangover they were nursing that caused them to almost get beaten by Bob Morris.

1:26: Samhan just rooked with that second foul.  I agree with Raftery.  That should have been a no-call.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.19.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

South Region Notes (Patrick Sellars)

Midwest Region Notes (Tom Hager)

  • Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl says that Ohio is a lot like his previous team, UW-Milwaukee.  In addition to being an extremely confident group, they Bobcats rely heavily on three point shooting.
  • President Obama is at the 96.6th percentile of ESPN brackets after the first round.  However, he did have Georgetown going to the Elite Eight, so his chances at the grand prize may be less promising.
  • For one of the first times all season, Cole Aldrich will be going up against somebody who is actually bigger than him in UNI’s Jordan Eglseder.  The Panthers’ big man was arrested earlier in the year on DUI charges, and his numbers have taken a slight dip since his return, but he will play a huge role in any upset bid by Northern Iowa.
  • CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel said that this Northern Iowa team is like other memorable cinderellas such as George Mason and Davidson.  His reasoning?  He has gone on record saying how UNI has no chance of winning,and that is what he said about the Patriots a few years ago.
  • Despite playing for two previous teams before the Bobcats, Mike Freeman says that no player typifies Ohio basketball more than Armon Bassett.  Bassett was a key catalyst for Ohio’s rout of Georgetown, and he has 148 points in his last five games.

East Region Notes (Ryan Restivo from SienaSaintsBlog)

  • Don’t look now but Kentucky coach John Calipari said he is concerned about Wake Forest who outrebounded Texas by 25 in their win Thursday. “They got 20 offensive rebounds against Texas, who prides itself in that toughness and that rebounding,” Calipari told the AP. “I just watched tape and, you know, you get sick to your stomach.” The Demon Deacons have momentum and nothing to lose against the Wildcats, the New Orleans Times-Picayune points out.
  • Cornell waited for its moment for two years and finally put on a show over Temple using players that were largely overlooked by major college basketball.
  • Wisconsin barely survived its first-round game against Wofford, who caught a tough break to end their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
  • Is Washington soft? No way. The Seattle Times said Coach Lorenzo Romar let his players play in the final seconds and won the game his way.
  • Darington Hobson hurt his wrist but he still has New Mexico thinking big.
  • Missouri shut down Clemson’s Trevor Booker in their win today. CBSSports asks, will Bob Huggins and West Virginia be able to handle the pressure?

West Region Notes – (Andrew Murawa)

Share this story

Second Round Game Analysis: Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 16 of the second round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Saturday games.

1:05 pm – #2 Villanova vs. #10 St. Mary’s  (Providence pod)

A great opening game of the day for the group of teams that produced the best opening day of the NCAA Tournament ever. A lot of experts are going to be calling for an upset here and based on the way these two teams are playing we can’t say that we blame them. The Wildcats came into the NCAA Tournament having lost five of seven games and nearly lost to Robert Morris (down by 7 with less than 4 minutes left before some controversial calls went ‘Nova’s way). On the other side, the Gaels stormed through the West Coast Conference Tournament and knocked off Richmond, a team that a lot of people had as a potential sleeper, in the first round. The key to this game will be how Reggie Redding handles Omar Samhan. After watching Samhan rip apart the Spiders, Jay Wright has to be concerned about his interior players going against one of the best low-post players in the country. On the other side, Saint Mary’s has to figure out how to deal with Scottie Reynolds and the rest of the Wildcat backcourt. They are certainly better equipped to match-up with Villanova’s perimeter players with Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova than the Wildcats are to handle Samhan. Saint Mary’s perimeter players pack enough offensive punch to make keep up with Villanova’s guards, but Mouphtaou Yarou and Redding shouldn’t challenge Samhan too much defensively. The one wildcard here is Reynolds. Will he “learn” from Wright’s “teaching moment” and become the Scottie Reynolds we knew for most of the past two seasons or will be the 2-15 from the field Reynolds?

The Skinny: Samhan overwhelms the Wildcats on the inside and advance into the Sweet 16 as this year’s Cinderella.

3:20 pm – #5 Butler vs. #13 Murray State  (San Jose pod)

The second game of the second round will feature the top mid-major program in the east versus an upstart who would love to get there themselves.  In their first round game, if you haven’t heard, the Racers’ Danero Thomas hit a shot at the buzzer to knock Vanderbilt out of the Tournament, but what you may not know about that game is that Murray State pretty much controlled it throughout.  It was very late when Vandy regained the lead and set the stage for Thomas’ game winner.  The point: Murray is better than your typical #13 seed Cinderella.  Butler, on the other hand, had a weak first half and a superb second half to put away UTEP.  It was two of the staples of Butler’s attack — relentless halfcourt defense and the three-ball — that allowed the Bulldogs to quickly take the lead and never look back against the Miners.  As for this game, Murray State does many of the same things that Butler does, it’s just that Brad Stevens’ team does those things better.  It will certainly be interesting to see how Butler responds to being the Big (Bull)Dog in an NCAA Tournament game, as they’re usually the upstart taking on some higher-seeded Kansas or Florida type of team.

The Skinny: We’d love to take Murray State here, but Butler isn’t going to let a johnny-come-lately out-Butler them en route to the Sweet Sixteen, so we expect Butler to hang on and win by 6-8 points.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.18.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 19th, 2010

Each day this week during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

South Region Notes (Patrick Sellars)

  • Duke and guard Nolan Smith don’t think they’ll have an easy path to Indianapolis even though all the “experts” agree that Duke has the easiest road to the Final Four of the number one seeds. Smith said, “This is the NCAA tournament, there’s no such thing as an easy path.”
  • California, who was considered by many a lock to make the Tournament, was not feeling at ease after the first three brackets were announced and their name was yet to be called. Head coach Mike Montgomery thinks with his team at full health they will be a very tough out for anyone in the tournament.
  • If there was any doubt that Old Dominion was coming in confident against Notre Dame it should be washed away after reading this New York Times article on their upset victory. I know it is obviously after the fact, but Frank Hassell, ODU’s leading scorer, said “We really weren’t worried about them or Luke (Harangody). We were worried about us.”
  • Another “after the fact” article, but here is a nice interview with Baylor head coach Scott Drew on being in the NCAA Tournament and how he handles each game. Baylor survived a scare from Sam Houston State, which is a big deal because the #14 seeds were on their game today, and it’s Baylor’s first NCAA Tournament win in 60 years.
  • With Omar Samhan in foul trouble Saint Mary’s head coach Randy Bennett went to his bench to look for someone who might be able to fill the void, and he went to a player used sparingly during the regular season. The San Francisco Chronicle looks at the freshman’s role in SMC’s big win.
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer looks at Villanova’s stingy victory over Robert Morris and Jay Wright’s decision to bench star guards Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher to start the game. Wright also said “If we can win this next game and get some practices, we’ve got a chance to be better. But I don’t know if we’re ready for this next game.” That’s music to the ears of all Saint Mary’s fans. What has happened to the Villanova Wildcats?
  • Overall the South Region is exactly what everyone though it would be, which is that its Duke’s region to win. With Baylor and Villanova both struggling against double digit seeds it looks as if the Blue Devils are now the heavy favorites. However, the NCAA Tournament is all about surviving and advancing, one day your team can beat a #14 seed narrowly, the next thing you know they’re in the Final Four (ex: Villanova 2009).

West Region Notes (Andrew Murawa)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

First Round Game Analysis: Thursday Afternoon

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2010

Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 32 of the first round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are the Thursday afternoon games.

Thursday, March 18 (all times ET)

12:20 pm – #7 BYU vs. #10 Florida  (Oklahoma City pod)

The NCAA Tournament kicks off in style this year with a good first round game from Oklahoma City.  BYU enters the postseason riding the wave of one of its most successful regular seasons in decades, but it won’t matter much if the Cougars can’t slay their old bugaboo of winning a first round game on Thursday afternoon.  The last time BYU won an NCAA opener in 1993, Grant Hill’s high fade was in style and the internet was something employees wore in their hair at fast food joints.  Eight trips later, BYU has by far its best team and chance to end that losing streak.  Jimmer Fredette is the best player casual fans haven’t yet heard of, but his 21/3/5 assts per game and 45% three-point shooting allow for the occasional explosion, as in the cases where he dropped 49 points at Arizona or 45 against TCU just last week in the Mountain West Tournament.  The Cougs’ opponent, Florida, limped into the postseason, having lost four of five games and is a questionable entrant (especially as a #10 seed).  But the Gators are still dangerous, boasting five players who average double figures with an ability to go off at any time.  The most difficult problem Florida will face, though, is how to stop the highly efficient offense that BYU brings to the dusty plains.  Dave Rose’s team shoots well from everywhere on the floor, and the Gator defense has been appropriately described as soft throughout the season, so UF will have to get into a high-scoring shootout to have a chance to outscore the Cougars in this one.

The Skinny: it’ll be difficult for Florida’s defense to slow the offensive talents of Fredette and his Cougars so we’re going with BYU by ten in a shootout.

12:25 pm – #6 Notre Dame vs. #11 Old Dominion  (New Orleans pod)

Everybody knows about the Irish and their response to what was believed to be a potential season-ending injury to their superstar Luke Harangody. After the injury (and during Harangody’s return), the Irish have rebuilt themselves into a better team. We’re not saying they are a better team without Harangody because that would be ridiculous, but the brand of basketball they play when they don’t dump it down to him and watch him go to work is producing better results. They will have their hands full with the CAA champion (both regular season and tournament) Old Dominion. While the Monarchs ended up losing many of the “resume-building” games they played this year, they were competitive in most of them (5-point loss versus Missouri and 9-point loss at Northern Iowa) they also managed to win the biggest game on their schedule at #3-seeded Georgetown. So we know they can hang with a Big East team. Now the question is whether senior Gerald Lee can put it together to lead Blaine Taylor’s squad to an upset in the first game of the NCAA Tournament.  It says here that they can, but the Irish are playing so well that they won’t.

The Skinny: Notre Dame gets enough production from each of its key scorers and is able to clamp down late on Lee and company to eke out a six-point victory.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Bracket Prep: South Region

Posted by nvr1983 on March 15th, 2010

This is the first of our four quick-and-dirty region breakdowns. This will serve to help the quick triggers who like to fill out their brackets first thing on Monday morning. For the rest of you, we’ll be providing more detailed game-by-game analysis throughout the rest of the week.

Reliant Stadium Hosts the South Regional

Region: South

Favorite: Duke, #1 seed, 29-5. Yeah, I know it isn’t shocking that they are the favorites especially in what many are calling the weakest of the four regions, but the Blue Devils have a solid combination of perimeter talent (albeit limited in numbers) and interior players (quantity more than quality, but still something). With the way Jon Scheyer has been playing this season and the sudden re-emergence of Kyle Singler in the ACC Tournament, Coach K and the Blue Devils should have their sights set on Indianapolis.

Should They Falter: Villanova, #2 seed, 24-7. A Final Four team last year, the Wildcats had the appearance of a Final Four team a month ago (many will still pick them now), but after losing five of their last seven games to close the season some of that luster has worn off. Still we would be remiss not to list them here as all but one of those losses came on the road (neutral site in one case to a #6 seed) against a team that is in the NCAA, another team with a top-3 seed and another to a UConn team back when Jim Calhoun’s players still cared.

Grossly Overseeded: California, #8 seed, 23-10. I know they won the Pac-10 regular season, but as you may have heard the Pac-10 was awful this year. When we asked Mike Montgomery about the possibility that the Bears might miss the NCAA Tournament this year he was perturbed. While he might have made it into the NCAA Tournament it does not erase the fact that they did not beat a single team in the top 50 of the RPI ratings. The Bears might deserve a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but I think most people would agree that they have not earned a seed this high.

Grossly Underseeded: Siena, #13 seed, 27-6. This might be where they deserve to be seeded based on their resume this year, but this is the team with the most “growth potential.” The Saints struggled in their conference final, but they have won first round games as an underdog in each of the past two years. Last year they knocked off Ohio State as a #9 seed and the year before knocked off Vanderbilt as a #13 seed. With an experienced squad they would be a tough out as a #13 seed in any bracket.

Sweet Sixteen Sleeper (#12 seed or lower): Siena. Like we said they won their first round games each of the past two years and there might not be a team more set-up to be upset in the first round than the Robbie Hummel-less Purdue Boilermakers. If they get past Matt Painter’s crew, they will play the winner of the Texas A&M and Utah State. It won’t be an easy second round game, but since it is in Spokane, Washington, we can’t imagine that either team will have a huge following there (although Utah State could conceivably travel up there).

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Bracket Prep: Northern Iowa, Old Dominion, Siena, St. Mary’s

Posted by rtmsf on March 12th, 2010

As we move through the next few days when automatic bids will be handed out on a regular basis, we’re going to break down the teams for you so that you can start thinking about your bracket ahead of time.  The pearls of wisdom are meant to help you better understand what these teams are good at and how to make fair comparisons between them — all too often, the capsules you see have a lot of information in them, but very little of it is actually helpful.  If you have additional ideas, leave them in the comments.  For the good/bad matchups, we’re not necessarily saying that Team X will win; we’re simply pointing out that in an ideal situation, some of that team’s strengths will be more likely to manifest against those particular opponents — so save the emails.  We’re still catching up, but these should be the teams through the early part of the week.

#5. Northern Iowa Panthers (28-4, 15-3 MVC) – automatic qualifier

NCAA Seed Range: #7-#9

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom:

  1. It’s all about methodical offense and sticky defense for the Panthers.  This team will not beat themselves with mistakes, so you’d better be disciplined in your approach if you hope to beat them.  Sixty points is the magic number — the Panthers were 16-0 this year when reaching that score.  Possession basketball is the key; a 10-point deficit in the last five minutes against UNI is nearly impossible to recover from, as they take care of the ball (only 10.5 turnovers/game) and hit free throws (75.5%).
  2. Not many mid-majors have a legitimate seven-footer but UNI’s Jordan Eglseder is one such player.  He only plays about 22 minutes per game, but he’s an effective scorer in the low post, draws a lot of fouls and is one of the best per-minute rebounders in the nation on both ends.  He’s not a game-changer in the sense that he will own the paint, but he is a tough wrinkle to prepare for in the game plan.
  3. The Panthers beat up on some bad major conference teams this year (Iowa, Iowa State, BC) in addition to knocking off some mid-major powers in Old Dominion and Siena.  The one confounding loss was to DePaul in the Virgin Islands early in the year where Mac Koshwal (12/19) dominated Eglseder (2/6) inside.  Don’t assume that as a trend, though, as Eglseder played well against ISU’s Craig Brackins (20/14) and Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson last season (13/5).

Good Matchups:  Wake Forest, Clemson

Bad Matchups: Marquette, UNLV

#6. Old Dominion (26-8, 15-3 CAA) – automatic qualifier

NCAA Seed Range: #9-#11

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom:

  1. There’s no one player you have to stop to beat ODU, but if you can slow down 6’10 center Gerald Lee, you’ll have a better chance.  The versatile big man was seen in the CAA Tournament taking the ball upcourt against pressure on occasion, in addition to lending his usual 15/5 and 54% shooting from the field.  He has six teammates who contribute between six and nine points per game, so keying on any one of them is precarious because the Monarchs share the wealth.  They only had six occasions where a player scored 20+ points in a game this year, and five of those were Lee (Marsharee Neely was the other).
  2. ODU is another one of those mid-majors that thrives on possession basketball.  They limit your possessions by defending and rebounding among the best in the nation.  They also gang-rebound on the offensive glass, giving themselves an extra chance on nearly half of their scoring opportunities.  Those extra chances help to make up for what is a fairly lousy three-point (31.5%) and two-point shooting percentage (49.4%).
  3. ODU’s signature win was at Georgetown during Snowpacalypse I in December.  They did it by forcing GU point guard Chris Wright into a difficult game (2-8 FG; 4 pts) and collecting eighteen Hoya turnovers.  It should be noted that if you can turn over the Monarchs, as Missouri, Northern Iowa and Dayton successfully did in the nonconference slate, they struggle scoring enough points to win.

Good Matchups:  Oklahoma State, Texas

Bad Matchups: Clemson, Richmond

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ATB: Nobody Wants to Play These Middies

Posted by rtmsf on March 9th, 2010

Championship Monday Night.  Four middies had their conference tourneys tonight, and we’ll be damned if we didn’t see at least a couple of RTCs out there (and a half-RTC in the WCC just for good measure).  Make no mistake, though, the four mid-major teams that won their leagues tonight are all excellent teams that nobody, we repeat, NOBODY, is going to want to see opposite their name in the brackets next week.  Every one of these four squads are seasoned, experienced and battle-tested units that won’t get rattled by seeing some bright lights, a big arena and a brand-name team standing at the other end of the court.  If none of these four teams pulls a first-round upset, then we don’t know anything about this game.

WCC ChampionshipSt. Mary’s 81, Gonzaga 62.  This game came down to a team that looked like it was playing for its NCAA life versus a team that was just happy going through the motions.  It was a complete mismatch in the second half of the WCC title game, as St. Mary’s confirmed its bona fides in a cathartic victory over its biggest rival and in the process serving notice that there are two powers coming out of the WCC this season.  The Gaels broke up a close game at halftime with a 51-point second half that included 68% shooting in the second half led by multiple threes from Mickey McConnell (26/6 assts/4 stls) and Ben Allen (20/9/4 assts).  Essentially it was a do-no-wrong kind of half for Randy Bennett’s team to the point where his team didn’t even need a big offensive night from their superstar center Omar Samhan (9/7/6 blks).  As for Gonzaga, this was the latest in a series of disappointing no-shows during the last six weeks where Mark Few’s team looked largely uninterested and apathetic — losses to San Francisco and LMU were similar occurrences.  Elias Harris in particular was miserable tonight, shooting 3-13 for eight points, and the entire team seemed to have grease on their hands with fourteen TOs in the game.  We realize that the Zags are always a threat to do some damage in March, but we’re just not convinced that this is one of Mark Few’s better teams, so it wouldn’t surprise us in the least if it was St. Mary’s that sticks around a little longer next week than their better-known counterparts in the NCAA Tournament.

Nope, SMC Didn't Surprise Us (AP/I. Brekken)

MAAC ChampionshipSiena 72, Fairfield 65 (OT). For an oh-so-brief moment, every bubble team in America held its collective breath.  Colin Nickerson’s three-pointer from the left corner was in the air to win the MAAC title for Fairfield, and if it had dropped, the weak bubble would have suddenly gotten a little more crowded with Siena joining the party.  Of course, it didn’t fall, and instead Siena capped off its title game comeback by dominating the overtime period and capturing its third straight MAAC championship to return to the NCAA Tournament.  For the third straight night, Siena found itself down at the half (this time by eleven) but as appropriate for a seasoned team, they never panicked, instead keeping their cool and eventually working their way back.  Edwin Ubiles and Alex Franklin, veterans of four NCAA Tournament games in their careers, combined for 49/19 to lead the Saints, but it was Ubiles’ 360-dunk in the second half that signaled to Fairfield and the rest of the building that Siena was not going to leave without a victory tonight.  Forget about the six losses on Siena’s record this year — five of those were away games, and the last we checked, the Tournament is played on neutral floors, and we know what this group is capable of in that respect.  Ask Vanderbilt or Ohio State: nobody wants to play this team next Thursday or Friday.  To close out the MAAC, check out this video from SienaSaintsBlog of the RTC tonight.  Great stuff.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

WCC Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 5th, 2010

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

Final Standings (through games of 2/27/10)

  1. Gonzaga                      12-2 (24-5)
  2. Saint Mary’s                11-3 (24-5)
  3. Portland                      9-4 (18-9)
  4. San Francisco              7-7 (12-17)
  5. Loyola Marymount     7-7 (16-14)
  6. Santa Clara                  3-11 (11-20)
  7. San Diego                   3-11 (10-20)
  8. Pepperdine                  3-11 (7-23)

Eyes on the Prize

Although one could reasonably forecast a WCC tournament championship game featuring no. 1 seed Gonzaga battling no. 2 seed Saint Mary’s for the automatic NCAA bid, a lot of interesting basketball will be played before that final matchup on Monday night, March 8 (ESPN, 6 p.m. Pacific) in Las Vegas. The last week of conference play settled the torrid battle for fourth place between San Francisco and Loyola Marymount (San Francisco got the nod and a first-round tournament bye because of a better conference record than LMU, including beating the Lions twice), and also set the stage for the most intriguing tournament contest. Before discussing that, however, here’s a look at the overall tournament schedule:

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 16th, 2010

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

Standings (through games of 2/13/10)

  1. Gonzaga 9-1 (21-4)
  2. Saint Mary’s 8-3 (21-5)
  3. Portland 7-3 (16-8)
  4. San Francisco 6-5 (11-15)
  5. Loyola Marymount 4-6 (13-13)
  6. Pepperdine 3-7 (7-19)
  7. Santa Clara 3-8 (11-17)
  8. San Diego 2-9 (9-18)

The Dynasty Continues

Barring a collapse of unimaginable proportions, the Gonzaga Bulldogs will win their tenth straight WCC Championship in 2010 – an almost-unprecedented string of single team domination in college basketball. After swatting down pretenders Portland (76-49) and Saint Mary’s (80-61) on consecutive Thursday nights at home, the Zags face a road trip this week to the less-than-fearsome Loyola Marymount Lions and Pepperdine Waves, then finish up the conference schedule at home against lowly Santa Clara on the 25th and San Francisco on the 27th. San Francisco brings the only substantive credential – an 81-77 upset of the Zags on Jan. 30 – into the final weekend, but Gonzaga showed by its overwhelming defeats of strong Portland and Saint Mary’s teams that it has recovered from whatever jim-jams caused it to lose to San Francisco. The Zags never let either Portland or Saint Mary’s get into their offenses, bringing stifling defense and potent offensive efforts by Matt Bouldin, Elias Harris, Robert Sacre and others to authoritatively separate themselves from their closest pursuers. There is no reasonable hope that anything will keep the Zags from running the table on the remaining games, including the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas March 5-8. The Zags’ main preoccupation for the next several weeks will be determining how high a seed they will receive in the NCAA Tournament.

Randy Bennett’s Saint Mary’s Gaels had a terrible trip to the Pacific Northwest after posting six straight wins following a closely-contested 89-82 loss to Gonzaga at home on Jan. 14. The Gaels were 8-1 in conference play and 21-3 overall heading into the Feb. 11 showdown against Gonzaga with the conference lead in the balance. With a win, Saint Mary’s would have put a little daylight between itself and the Zags because of the Zags’ earlier loss to San Francisco. For about 24 minutes the Gaels played as if they were serious about threatening Gonzaga’s long reign as WCC champs, but unfortunately college games are 40 minutes long. After an Omar Samhan basket tied things at 43 all with 16 minutes left, it was all Gonzaga. The Zags’ hounding defense produced numerous turnovers by Gael guards Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova, and to underline the worst game of his college career, McConnell – averaging nearly 14 points per game – was shut out.

McConnell bounced back with a team-leading 25 points in the Gaels’ game against Portland two nights later, but his teammates were unable to stem Portland’s strong guard play and lost 80-75 in overtime. Pilots’ senior point guard T.J. Campbell scored a career-high 24 points and backcourt mate Jared Stohl added 16 to lead their team. Portland pulled even with Saint Mary’s in the loss column with the victory, and is looking to finish its final four games on a roll to gain the number two WCC Tournament seed and an automatic advance to the conference semifinals. The Pilots accompany Gonzaga on the southern California road trip this week to Pepperdine and LMU, then return home to face San Francisco and Santa Clara to end the season. If the Gaels, who have a road game against San Diego and two home contests against Pepperdine and LMU, also win out, they and Portland will tie for second place at 11-3. It will take a lot of head-scratching to determine who earns the number-two seed in that case, as the teams split against each other, with both games being decided by five points, and both lost twice to Gonzaga. Portland, however, had a larger point differential in its two losses to Gonzaga – 30 – than Saint Mary’s, which had a 26-point deficit.

With the league-leaders completing conference play against bottom-tier teams, there are many opportunities for those teams to score significant upsets. San Francisco is playing the strongest ball among the non-contenders, having won four out of five games including a 77-47 rout of Pepperdine and a convincing 75-66 win over LMU at home last week to solidify its hold on fourth place. However, the Dons travel to Bay Area rival Santa Clara on Feb. 20 for a rematch against a team that edged them 66-65 earlier, then head to the northwest to end the season against Gonzaga and Portland. Hard to predict a Dons’ upset of the northwest squads.

LMU and Pepperdine both entertain Gonzaga and Portland this week, and LMU especially will be looking to earn back some respect it has lost since an early-season upset of Notre Dame in South Bend. Max Good has most of the LMU walking wounded back for the Gonzaga and Portland showdowns, with transfer guard Larry Davis the only prominent player still on the sidelines. The Lions are a game-and-a-half back of San Francisco and would love to redeem their early-season promise by ruining the seasons of the top dogs and moving up in the standings. They have the opportunities, but will have to overcome strong momentum to topple either Gonzaga or Portland this week, or Saint Mary’s in the final conference game on Feb. 27 in Moraga.

Share this story

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.

Share this story