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.

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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:

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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.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.11.10

Posted by THager on February 11th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Buzz: ESPN Bracketbusters to be Announced at 6:30 pm

Posted by rtmsf on February 1st, 2010

In less than a half-hour from now, ESPNU will be broadcasting their ESPN Bracketbusters Selection Show, hosted by Lowell Galindo and analyst Mark Adams.  Will this year’s schedule give us some choice matchups such as Siena-Cornell or New Mexico-Northern Iowa?  What about a St. Mary’s-Radford matchup so we can see Omar Samhan battle with Artsiom Parakhouski?  Check back in later as we’ll have a comprehensive analysis of the best games to keep an eye on as part of your viewing schedule in three weekends (February 19-20).  As if you didn’t already have enough good hoops to watch this month!


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RTC Live: Gonzaga at San Francisco

Posted by rtmsf on January 30th, 2010

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

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on January 26th, 2010

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

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

Vasquez heating up for the Terps

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

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

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ATB: Gonzaga Has a New Star

Posted by rtmsf on January 15th, 2010

Elias Harris Introduces Himself to America/RTC LiveGonzaga 89, St. Mary’s 82.  We really hope you stayed up for this WCC tilt between the two titans of this league tonight.  If you didn’t, you missed what someone less of a wordsmith than RTC might call a ‘coming-out party.’  Gonzaga’s Elias Harris not only had a career-high night in terms of scoring (31/13), but he also spent seemingly half of the game hanging from the McKeon Pavilion rims after throwing down a beyond-athletic dunk.  Maybe it was the soft rims at the Moraga school, but each time Harris was doing chin-ups on their hoops, we thought the entire place might come down with him.  St. Mary’s had the raucous crowd, the early three-pointers from Matt Dellavedova and Mickey McConnell, the late power game from Omar Samhan, and a four-point deficit with under a minute to go (plus the ball).  But what the Gaels didn’t have at all tonight (and was clearly a concern of Randy Bennett’s after the game) was the ability to defend the Zags.  GU shot a scorching 60% from the field and was +8 on the offensive glass, which means that Gonzaga’s percentage of scoring possessions was off the charts at over 71% for the game.  You’re simply not going to be in a realistic position to win many games when you’re getting stops only three of every ten defensive trips. It’s a testament to how well Omar Samhan played in the second half (26 of his 31 came after the break) that SMC had a chance to win within the final few minutes.  Gonzaga leaves Moraga with a 2-0 WCC record, but those two wins already represent what are likely its two toughest road games this season (@ Portland being the other).  Even if Gonzaga drops two games the rest of the way, St. Mary’s would have to lose only one other game AND beat Gonzaga in Spokane to tie them for the regular season title.  Good luck with that.  As for Harris, he wasn’t a very highly recruited player coming from Germany, but he’s proving that once again Mark Few and his staff have a keen eye for talent somewhat off the beaten path.  Tonight he appeared to be the Zags’ best player, and his 15/8 on 59% shooting this year puts him in elite company among freshmen this season.

Pac-10 Wrap. Rather than do an individual breakdown of each game in this crazy conference, since eight teams played tonight we’ll just do a wrapup paragraph tonight.  The lesson in this year’s Pac-10: pick who you think will win the game… then pick the other team — there’s your winner.  The Arizonas visited the Oregons tonight, and if you had Oregon getting destroyed (76-57) for the second straight game at home while Oregon State snuck past Arizona on a Lathen Wallace three with 1.1 seconds remaining, give yourself a pat on the back.  In Washington, we had the NorCal teams visiting tonight, and if you had Stanford getting destroyed by UW  (coming off three straight losses) and Cal winning a road game (!!!) at Wazzu, give yourself a full-on hug.  Jerome Randle had a career-high 39 points, outdoing conference scoring leader Klay Thompson (18/6) in Pullman, while Quincy Pondexter dropped 27/10 on the Cardinal in Seattle.  The Pac-10 standings now have Cal at 3-1, six teams with two losses, and three teams with three.  Can we just set each team at 9-9 for the regular season and get on to the Pac-10 Tournament?

Other Games of National Interest.

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RTC Live: Gonzaga @ St. Mary’s

Posted by rtmsf on January 14th, 2010

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

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RTC Live: St. Mary’s @ San Francisco

Posted by rtmsf on January 8th, 2010

A little Friday night college hoops, anyone?  RTC Live will be visiting a historic old gym tonight in an effort to see all the crumbling old beauties before they disappear when we’ll be at the University of San Francisco’s War Memorial Gymnasium for a WCC battle between St. Mary’s and San Francisco.  Why is it historic?  Well, for you young’uns out there, USF may not be relevant these days, but in the mid-50s with a couple of players by the names of Bill Russell and KC Jones, they were pretty much ridiculous.  The Dons won the 1955 and 1956 NCAA titles including  a streak of 55 consecutive victories over that span.  Nowadays, things have changed, and USF has been relegated to a mid-major program with its ups and downs, but they’re usually good for an upset or two each year when a big-name comes to town and St. Mary’s just might fit the bill.  SMC comes into tonight’s game at 13-2 (vs. 5-10 for USF), and Randy Bennett’s team is once again eyeing the WCC championship that starts and ends in Spokane.  The Gaels can’t afford to drop games like this if they want to have a shot at the regular season championship.  The two players to watch are Omar Samhan (21/11/3 blks) of St. Mary’s, one of the most efficient players in America, and Dior Lowhorn (19/6) of San Francisco, the two-time defending conference scoring leader and two-time first-team all-conference performer in the WCC.  We hope you find some time tonight to join  us for a little hoops action from the middle of San Francisco. 

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