Conference Tournament Primer: West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on March 6th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the Rush the Court’s correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Tournament Preview

There are some new contenders, some elevated expectations and the hint of upset in the air. But, in the end, will it add up to someone other than Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s winning the WCC Tournament title next Tuesday and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament? Those two have played in the championship game for the past five years – Gonzaga winning three – and the first change in 2014 is that they will not repeat that engagement. The Gaels and the Zags are in the same half of this year’s bracket; their clash, if it comes, will be in the semifinals on Monday, and only one will emerge to contend for the championship.

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The replacement of Saint Mary’s by BYU as the tourney’s second seed and the emergence of San Francisco as a legitimate championship contender is the first major change in the tournament makeup. BYU and San Francisco tied for second place behind Gonzaga in the conference standings, with BYU earning the second seed by virtue of a sweep over San Francisco, and Saint Mary’s limped in at fourth. The other major change is a requirement that all teams in the tournament play at least three games. Gone is the WCC’s controversial practice of granting the first and second finishers a bye to the semifinal round. For the last five years, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s had only a semifinal game to contend with before squaring off for the title.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on February 27th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the Rush the Court’s correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Looking Back

Perris Blackwell is pulling down rebounds for Washington, De’End Parker is leading Cal State San Marcos to the top of NAIA ranks, and Cody Doolin is plotting his comeback next year at UNLV. But Rex Walters has commanded a resolute Gang of Six anchored by senior forward Cole Dickerson to propel San Francisco to the brink of second place in the WCC with an outside chance of tying for the title. By holding off hapless Saint Mary’s and still-struggling Pacific at home last week, the Dons moved to 11-5 in conference play and into a virtual tie with BYU for the second spot (the Cougars have a half-game lead by virtue of having played one more game). If the Dons sweep Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount this week in Southern California and BYU and Gonzaga stumble in their final contests, Walters’ embattled troops will have pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in WCC history.

It is still a slight possibility that Cole Dickerson and USF could record an improbable conference crown. (ISI Sports)

It is still a slight possibility that Cole Dickerson and USF could earn itself an improbable conference crown. (ISI Sports)

Gonzaga paved the way for this potential outcome by dropping both its road contests last week, first to an aroused BYU in Provo, and then to a scrappy San Diego at the Jenny Craig Pavilion. The Zags’ lack of depth was a factor in both losses, as Mark Few has narrowed his rotation to exclude anyone besides Przemek Karnowski and Sam Dower, Jr. in the frontcourt. Providence transfer Gerard Coleman, Louisville transfer Angel Nunez and two freshmen are anchored on the bench as the Zags plow unsteadily towards another conference championship and a top seed in the WCC Tournament, opening March 6 in Las Vegas. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on February 13th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.

Looking Back

The scramble for second place in the WCC continued unabated last week, as Saint Mary’s and BYU held off defeats that would have made any conference title dreams impossible. As things stand now, they’re only just unrealistic. San Francisco and Pepperdine, two other teams harboring dreams for a lofty finish, stumbled.

Stephen Holt (right) had an outstanding week for the Gaels. (SMC Athletics)

Stephen Holt (right) had an outstanding week for the Gaels. (SMC Athletics)

Gonzaga’s three-game lead in the loss column over BYU and Saint Mary’s seems impregnable, but the schedule-makers have done the Zags no favors. After entertaining Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount at home this week, Gonzaga hits the road for four season-ending games that could prove harrowing. BYU, San Diego and Saint Mary’s must be considered at least potential upset opportunities, and even Pacific has showed its Tiger teeth occasionally this season. What better way to salvage a disappointing return to the WCC than by knocking off the Zags? Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Weekly Awards: Saint Joseph’s, Tyler Haws, Eddie Payne and CCSU

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 5th, 2014

Last week was incredibly entertaining all across the spectrum of college hoops, featuring numerous upsets and several finishes that made our jaws drop. Let’s pass out a few accolades to those O26 teams, players and coaches who got the job done amid all the craziness.

Langston Galloway's big shot helped spark a big week for Saint Joseph's. (SJU Athletic Communications)

Langston Galloway’s big shot helped spark a big week for Saint Joseph’s. (SJU Athletic Communications)

O26 Team of the Week

Saint Joseph’s. This current week might actually have larger implications for Saint Joseph’s, what with home games against Saint Louis and VCU, but the Hawks’ effort last week — winning on the road at Dayton and handling UMass in Hagan Area — still deserves significant recognition. Phil Martelli’s club seemed destined for a second straight loss last Wednesday against the Flyers, trailing at halftime and completely unable to get things going offensively (perhaps a carry-over from the previous game at Richmond). It would have made for devastating, potentially demoralizing, defeat, considering the upcoming slate. Then the second half began, and everything changed. The Hawks charged out of the locker room with a 27-7 run to go up 15 points with around 10 minutes to play, leaving the Dayton crowd stunned and silenced. The home team did eventually make a comeback, forcing a slew of turnovers and tying the game with 11 seconds on the clock, but Saint Joseph’s guard Langston Galloway would not allow this opportunity to slip by, not with a season potentially in the balance: The senior used a ball screen at the top of the key, found just enough space on the right wing and banked in a three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left, finishing off the Flyers and improving his club’s record to 4-2 in Atlantic 10 play.

Saturday’s game against UMass featured similar drama, but was far more redemptive for the Hawks. A month earlier, they had played well but blew a late lead against the Minutemen in Amherst, prompting the terrific Martelli line, “It’s a big-boy game, and we weren’t big enough.” His team was more than big enough this time aroun — at least for the first 38 minutes — as it outworked Derek Kellogg’s group on both ends of the floor and opened up a 16-point margin early in the second half. But just like three days before, Saint Joseph’s let a game seemingly well in hand nearly get away, as UMass point guard Chaz Williams spearheaded a late, furious charge to tie things up with 30 seconds remaining. The Hawks stepped up once again, draining five key free throws and forcing one huge turnover to put away the Minutemen and salvage hopes for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth. It was the perfect culmination to a pivotal week for the Hawks, both a testament to their fortitude and proof of their staying power in the Atlantic 10.

Honorable Mentions: Lehigh (2-0: vs. Bucknell; @Boston University); Davidson (2-0: vs. Chattanooga; vs. The Citadel); Ohio (2-0: vs. Central Michigan; vs. Toledo)

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on February 5th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.

Looking Back

The previous week’s play might have sealed the WCC’s fate as a one-bid league. With the shocking demise of Saint Mary’s as a serious contender for an at-large NCAA berth, only Gonzaga has an overall resume and a potential WCC Tournament championship firmly in its grasp. BYU proved its strength in the Marriott Center with an 84-71 victory over Saint Mary’s, but still has road games against the Gaels and up-and-down San Diego and has posted a so-so 15-9 record so far. San Francisco may be better positioned than BYU to challenge for second place behind Gonzaga, with a Saturday showdown in Provo looming to possibly settle that question, but second place will not win an at-large bid for the Dons either.

Bennet's Tough Week May Have Resigned Saint Mary's to the NIT (Photo credit: Jason O. Watson/US Presswire).

Bennet’s Tough Week May Have Resigned Saint Mary’s to the NIT (Photo credit: Jason O. Watson/US Presswire).

The Gaels’ meltdown against San Diego – a 61-43 humiliation in which they barely registered a pulse – and subsequent loss to BYU marked several milestones for Saint Mary’s, none of them positive. In absorbing four losses with eight games to go, the Gaels have guaranteed their worst WCC performance since going 10-4 in 2008-09. Saint Mary’s record of winning at least 25 games a year for six straight seasons also seems doomed, with possibly 11 games left (assuming three games in the WCC tournament) and only 16 wins so far.

The only apparent path to a second bid for the conference lies in an upset of Gonzaga at the WCC Tournament in March. In that case, the victor would receive the automatic NCAA bid and Gonzaga would presumably receive an at-large bid based on its history of 14 straight NCAA appearances and its overall resume in 2013-14. But which team is likely to pull that off? There is no bye to the semifinal round this year, as each potential champion must play at least three times in Las Vegas. None of the would-be contenders has shown the consistency to pull off three tournament wins, which would include a victory over Gonzaga along the way. A single bid seems all but assured.

Power Rankings

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 28th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.

Crystal Ball Time

With most teams in the WCC having completed half the conference schedule it’s time to do some end-game handicapping. Here’s how the rest of the schedule shapes up for the main players:

  • Gonzaga, although sitting pretty at 8-1 with a game-and-a-half lead on Saint Mary’s, has a tough second half of conference play ahead. Its three home games should give the Zags little trouble, but road pitfalls could come against the Bay Area schools (Saint Mary’s, San Francisco and Santa Clara), in Provo against BYU, and in the Jenny Craig Pavilion against San Diego.
  • Saint Mary’s has an unfavorable (4/6) home/road balance ahead, but two of the road games are against nearby rivals San Francisco and Santa Clara. The Gaels’ main peril begins right now with four games in southern California and Provo. If Saint Mary’s comes off that journey intact, it will be well positioned to entertain BYU and Gonzaga at home.
Rex Walters and USF have a real chance to make some noise in the coming weeks. (Getty)

Rex Walters and USF have a real chance to make some noise in the coming weeks. (Getty)

  • San Francisco also has a chance to do some damage against the leaders by entertaining Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s at home, but will be at risk on the road against BYU and San Diego.
  • BYU is up against the wall no matter how you slice it because of its inability to win a single conference game on the road. The Cougars will certainly battle Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga tough at home, but its chances against the Gaels and Toreros on the road don’t look good based on performance to date.

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (18-3, 8-1)
  2. Saint Mary’s (16-5, 6-2)
  3. San Francisco (13-8, 6-3)
  4. BYU (13-9, 5-4)
  5. Pepperdine (12-10, 5-5)
  6. Portland (12-9, 4-5)
  7. San Diego (12-10, 3-6)
  8. Santa Clara (10-12, 3-6)
  9. Loyola Marymount (11-11, 3-7)
  10. Pacific (11-8, 2-6)

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Checking In On… the West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 23rd, 2014

Looking Back

Things are beginning to have a more familiar look as the WCC season passes the one-third mark: Gonzaga on top, with BYU and Saint Mary’s trailing closely behind. Early-season pretenders such as Pepperdine and San Francisco have been knocked back, if not out, and BYU seems to have overcome its first-week stumble into losses at Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount by rattling off five straight wins.

Rumors of Mark Few and Gonzaga leaving the WCC keeps getting louder and louder (AP)

It’s been business as usual for Mark Few and Gonzaga, who have once again performed at a championship level. (AP)

  • Gonzaga has gotten Sam Dower Jr. back and is successfully integrating Louisville transfer Angel Nunez into its offense. Only the return of Gary Bell Jr. from a broken wrist keeps the Zags from fielding the team it envisioned at season’s outset.
  • Saint Mary’s has Randy Bennett back at the helm after a five-game NCAA-imposed suspension, and the result has been two wins at home. The Gaels hope to welcome Garrett Jackson back this week after several weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury, which will give Beau Levesque some support at power forward.
  • All the leaders seem set for the next part of the season, therefore, and only one game separates BYU and a game-and-a-half separates Saint Mary’s from the Zags. Let the games continue.

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (16-3, 6-1)
  2. BYU (13-7, 5-2)
  3. Saint Mary’s (14-5, 4-2)
  4. San Francisco (12-8, 5-3)
  5. Pepperdine (12-8, 5-3)
  6. Portland (11-8, 3-4)
  7. Santa Clara (10-11, 3-5)
  8. San Diego (11-9, 2-5)
  9. Loyola Marymount (10-10, 2-6)
  10. Pacific (10-7, 1-5)

WCC News & Notes

  • Dower celebrated his return to the Gonzaga starting lineup with two monster games in Southern California, an effort that won him WCC Player of the Week honors. Dower was a perfect 7-of-7 against Pepperdine, which had a chance to take over first place in the WCC with a win, and added eight rebounds to his 18 points in a 70-53 rout. He matched that with a 28/14 effort two nights later against LMU, leading the Zags to an 82-72 win. Perhaps in recognition of Dower’s importance, the USA Today poll raised the Zags three spots from 24th to 21st.

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Harvard, Princeton and the Grind of a 14-Game Tournament

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 11th, 2014

On the road and without its best player, Harvard lost a close game to UConn on Wednesday night in what might be the death-knell for its at-large hopes; at best, Tommy Amaker’s team will be sweating it out on Selection Sunday if unable to clinch the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Which is a shame. By most measures (including the dubious ‘eye test’), the Crimson is an NCAA Tournament-caliber group this season, something it could have cemented with a win against the Huskies this week or over Colorado back in November. But neither of those outcomes occurred, so Harvard’s March hopes now likely hinge on its ability to hold off Princeton in conference play. With the Tigers playing well and the unique Ivy schedule sure to cause trouble, that task will be more difficult than first thought.

Princeton could give Harvard a run for its money in Ivy League play. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)

Princeton could give Harvard a run for its money in Ivy League play. (Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)

Ivy League teams play a 14-game, double round-robin schedule with the distinctive feature of squaring off on back-to-back nights — Fridays and Saturdays — for six straight weeks. Every weekend is either spent at home or on the road. In the latter case, it often means finishing a basketball game, taking a lengthy bus ride across the Tri-State Area and/or New England to another campus and suiting up again the very next night. It is a test of focus and conditioning that can make-or-break a team’s title chances. Take last year’s Princeton team as an example: After beating Harvard the prior weekend and carrying a half-game lead into the final back-to-backer (with the annual Princeton/Penn outlier game scheduled the following Tuesday), the Tigers went on the road and lost a tough game to Yale on Friday night, traveled to Providence the next day to take on Brown — a team it had beaten by 17 points a month before — and promptly lost by double figures; Harvard went on to win the conference and play in the NCAA Tournament. All totaled, not including their one-game playoff in 2011 (and including Harvard’s rare Sunday game at Columbia last season), exactly half of Harvard and Princeton’s combined Ivy League losses have come on the second game of road double-headers since 2010. Fatigue sets in and the schedule takes its toll.

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Checking in on… the West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 1st, 2014

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

Looking Back

Every week in a conference season is its own self-contained drama with winners, losers, and in-betweeners. The opening week is more dramatic than most because portents are seen and chances are calculated. After the opening weekend of the nine-week WCC season, some definite winners and losers emerged. Whether they stay that way will depend on what happens from now until March 1.

Marty Wilson and Pepperdine picked up arguably the best win of the weekend. (US Presswire)

Marty Wilson and Pepperdine picked up arguably the best win of the weekend. (US Presswire)

Winners: Loyola-Marymount, Pepperdine, and Gonzaga made the most of opening at home by sweeping both opponents. Most impressive: Pepperdine’s 80-74 win over BYU, which had defeated Stanford and Utah State on the road and Texas at a neutral-site game.

Losers: Portland and Pacific, which blew opportunities to start the season with solid home wins, BYU, which bombed on the road at LMU and Pepperdine, and San Diego, which also lost two road games. It’s a toss-up whether Portland or BYU was most disappointing. Portland had winnable games against San Francisco and Santa Clara, but lost both, and BYU looked like anything but the team that is going to threaten Gonzaga for the conference title. Pacific had a wounded Saint Mary’s that was coming into the Spanos Center after a disastrous Diamond Head Classic performance (0-3) and was without head coach Randy Bennett, who was serving an NCAA-imposed five-game suspension. The Tigers lost anyway, 88-80, blowing a chance to make its debut in the WCC (after a 43-year absence) with a positive statement.

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Checking In On… the West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on December 24th, 2013

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

Looking Back

College teams use their pre-conference slates in a variety of ways, but debate usually centers on two approaches: build RPI and team character by challenging strong teams, sometimes on the road; or marshal team resources by playing a home-centric schedule with a modicum of challenging opponents. No conference exemplifies this split more than the WCC in 2013-14.

Dave Rose and BYU bullied their way through a tough non-conference slate. (BYU Athletics)

Dave Rose and BYU bullied their way through a tough non-conference slate. (BYU Athletics)

BYU, donning Gonzaga’s suddenly-unused traveling clothes, has compiled the boldest preseason schedule by far, traveling to Stanford (112-103 win), Kansas City for a tournament (86-82 win over Texas, 75-62 loss to Wichita State), Utah State (85-74 win), UMass (105-96 loss), Utah (81-64 loss) and Oregon (100-96 loss). Straddling a home game against ranked Iowa State (90-88 loss), the Cougars have played seven games outside Provo, three of those against ranked teams. Other than a penchant for travel, however, BYU’s boldness hasn’t revealed much about what kind of team it will be in the WCC, much less the postseason, if there is one. For one thing, BYU lost four of those tough games and gave up a bucket-load of points (88.6 PPG), with three opponents topping 100. One could say the Cougars are battle-hardened but still unproven.

The polar opposite of BYU’s approach was taken by Saint Mary’s, which rattled off seven straight home wins, some over quality opponents (North Dakota State, Akron, Louisiana Tech) before venturing to Boise and conquering Boise State 82-74. Those who argue that only the road forges steel were given support by the Gaels’ 78-71 collapse against Frank Martin’s rebuilding South Carolina Gamecocks followed by a loss to Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic. The Gaels will play George Mason on Christmas morning in the ignominious seventh-place game. From an at-large resume perspective, Saint Mary’s will need to leave the islands with at least one victory.

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The Best In The West: Ranking the Top 20 Teams West Of The Rockies

Posted by AMurawa on December 16th, 2013

Roughly a quarter of the way through the year, we’re going to unveil something a little new here, something we’ll check back in on once a month or so. We’re going to take all the schools west of the Rockies (and we’re going to be a bit generous with our geography – basically we’re looking at schools from the Pac-12, Mountain West, West Coast, and Big West and then some of the schools from the Big Sky and Western Athletic Conferences) and give you the top 20 teams. But, rather than just ranking schools 1 though 20, we’re going to divide all these teams up into tiers, in part because calling Arizona #1 and then naming another school #2 just seems wrong, because the Wildcats are just so far ahead of everyone else. Below, you’ll see our Top 20 teams in the West (their overall rank will be in parentheses), with descriptions of what we think the teams in each tier have in common, plus brief comments on the teams in our list.

Arizona Is The Undisputed Leader In The West (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

Arizona Is The Undisputed Leader In The West (Casey Sapio, USA Today Sports)

The Best of the BestIn a league of their own.

Arizona (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – The Wildcats are in a class by themselves out West. Even when putting together my national top 25, I wanted to put Arizona at #1, leave spots 2-5 empty, and then have a four-way tie at #6. What they’ve accomplished thus far is unassailable, especially considering how young this team is. Expect somebody (maybe multiple somebodies) in the Pac-12 to put up a serious challenge, but at this point in the season, Sean Miller’s squad is not only the best in the West, but they’re the best by a long shot.

Contenders to the Throne – And all top 25 teams.

Oregon (#2 overall, Pac-12 #2) – The Ducks are the team closest to joining the Wildcats up top, but while they’ve got an undefeated record and some quality scalps, they’re missing the quality of wins that the Wildcats have. But, as good as Dana Altman’s squad has been, they’re not even at full strength yet – Dominic Artis and Ben Carter are due back this week.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on November 21st, 2013

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

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Not only has the WCC posted an impressive .811 winning percentage (30-7) through games of November 20, but also some of its members have shown the capacity to turn the conference race into an interesting exercise. Before losing a gritty 90-88 home game to #21 Iowa State on Wednesday, BYU looked particularly strong. The Cougars have been revitalized by the return of Kyle Collinsworth after a two-year mission and the emergence of 6’9″ freshman Erik Mica as a force in the paint that will make it easier to forget Brandon Davies. Those two, combined with sizzling early-season play by Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino, have helped BYU score at a 90-plus PPG clip and sweep of Weber State, Stanford (on the road) and a couple of cupcakes. The loss to rugged Iowa State from the top-ranked (in the early going) Big 12 Conference served as a reality check for the Cougars, and they will get another test against Texas on Monday in Kansas City, but Dave Rose appears to have the fast-moving, high-scoring team he is known for.
As usual, Dave Rose and BYU are off to a fast start. (AP)

As usual, Dave Rose and BYU are off to a fast start. (AP)

  • Saint Mary’s has done a lot to dispel those “What will we do without Matthew Dellavedova?” worries by posting a 4-0 record against strong competition. By cruising past Louisiana Tech, Akron and North Dakota State – all projected to be conference winners and go to the NCAA Tournament – the Gaels have done more than any other WCC team to boost the conference’s standing. Saint Mary’s slowed a little against Drake, not considered a force in the Missouri Valley Conference, but that 67-63 win might have been the residue of playing four games in the season’s first eight days. The Gaels’ early-season efforts put them at number three nationally in the Ratings Percentage Index (admittedly a small sample of games played), but, more importantly at 19th nationally in strength of schedule. The next closest WCC competitor is Pacific’s SOS at 65th nationally and Gonzaga’s one spot behind. Brad Waldow has been a beast in the paint for Saint Mary’s, posting two double-doubles and averaging 19.3 PPG and 8.3 RPG. Veteran guard Stephen Holt has proved Delly-like in his ability to find Waldow in good position to score, has posted a nearly three-to-one assist to turnover ratio (22 assists, eight turnovers) and is scoring at 12.3 PPG.

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