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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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on March 6th, 2013

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

WCC Tournament Preview

Untitled

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

Maybe, maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 27th, 2013

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

Looking Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

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

Posted by CNguon on February 19th, 2013

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

Looking Back

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

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

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

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

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

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

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

Posted by CNguon on February 14th, 2013

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

Looking Back

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

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

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

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

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

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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 4th, 2013

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

Looking Back

The Road Ahead — With the Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s stranglehold on the top two spots in the WCC becoming more evident every week, the question arises whether either of them has an edge down the home stretch. The Gaels have a more difficult task because they are a game behind the Zags, so it has to count on a win over Gonzaga at home and running the table on the rest of the conference to earn a tie. To gain a repeat of their outright WCC title, Saint Mary’s must hope that Gonzaga stumbles once more in addition to losing in Moraga. How likely is this scenario?

  • The Gaels have seven games left, four on the road and three at home. Certainly wins at Santa Clara, San Diego, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine are not guaranteed, but the Saint Mary’s schedule is more favorable than the Zags’. The Gaels will face Gonzaga and BYU on successive Thursdays, February 14 and February 21, on the cozy McKeon Pavilion floor where they easily handled both last year (98-82 over BYU and 83-62 over Gonzaga). A 15-1 mark is not out of the Gaels’ reach.

    Matthew Dellavadova and Saint Mary's are hoping Gonzaga stumbles down the stretch (AP)

    Matthew Dellavedova and Saint Mary’s are hoping Gonzaga stumbles down the stretch (AP)

  • Gonzaga would seem to have an advantage in that five of its remaining eight games are at home, and none of those should present a serious challenge. However, the Zags’ three remaining road games are troublesome because they lost to all three opponents – Saint Mary’s, BYU and San Francisco – last year. The Thursday-Saturday (February 14-16) Bay Area match-ups against Saint Mary’s and San Francisco are particularly troublesome because Gonzaga has lost to San Francisco three years in a row at War Memorial Gymnasium, was thumped by the Gaels in Moraga last year, and barely squeaked by them at home last month (83-78). And, despite its glittering 21-2 record and high RPI and national ranking, Gonzaga has struggled on the road several times this year: In an early-season win over Washington State (71-69), a loss at Butler (64-63), and last week’s nail-biting win over San Diego (65-63). As a wise man once said, it isn’t over until the fat lady sings and she hasn’t even cleared her throat yet.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (8-0, 21-2): It wasn’t easy for the Zags to remain undefeated for the first half of the conference season and become the first team in the nation to reach 21 victories, as they found themselves trailing lowly San Diego 55-53 with 9:26 remaining and tied at 59-all with 4:54 on the clock.
    Successive layups by Kelly Olynyk and a clutch drive and finish by David Stockton gave them a cushion to withstand a final Toreros push.
  2. Saint Mary’s (8-1, 19-4): After sweating out a tense 67-63 road win over San Francisco and its tenacious defensive pressure, the Gaels relaxed with a 77-42 laugher against struggling Portland in Moraga. Finding his three-point stroke after a conference season-long absence, Matthew Dellavedova hit four threes in the first half en route to a game-high 23 points. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on January 30th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Conference sorting itself out? — It’s halfway for some and near halfway for others, so how is the WCC conference race sorting out?

Here’s one viewpoint:

  • Gonzaga (6-0 WCC) and Saint Mary’s (6-1) seem locked into a two-team struggle for the regular season title and a showdown in the conference tournament in Las Vegas in March. Gonzaga has been cruising behind Kelly Olynyk’s resurgence in the post, and may not be challenged until it meets Saint Mary’s in Moraga on Valentine’s Day. The Gaels have used a stunning last-second victory over BYU in Provo to propel themselves to a five-game winning streak and a renewed sense of purpose. Architect of the streak has been – who else? – senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova. Not only did Delly personally secure the BYU win with his ESPN #1 highlight buzzer-beater, he has been orchestrating the Gaels’ offense even more brilliantly. His record last week of 21 assists and zero turnovers in two Gael wins has record-keepers looking for comparable stats.

    Kelly Olynyk's season keeps on getting better and better (Getty)

    Kelly Olynyk’s season keeps on getting better and better (Getty)

  • BYU will protest strenuously that it is not out of title consideration, but a home loss to Saint Mary’s and a road loss to Gonzaga weaken its argument considerably. The Cougars have a chance to play a major role when they face Gonzaga at home on February 28, but that may come too late depending on how they fare in a rematch with Saint Mary’s in Moraga the week before. Picking up a third loss against the Gaels will almost certainly eliminate the Cougs from the title race.
  • Santa Clara seems poised to move into the slot right behind BYU if it can retain its consistency. The Broncos faltered with three conference losses in a row but have bounced back with four straight wins. In their favor or posing a huge obstacle is a scheduling anomaly that postpones their first game against Saint Mary’s until February 7 at home. A win there would seriously erode the Gaels’ chances and give the Broncos momentum heading into the last weeks of the campaign.
  • The rest of the conference is a bit of a puzzle, with San Francisco and Pepperdine showing intermittent promise and San Diego fading fast. The only thing that seems certain is that Loyola Marymount and Portland will be battling to keep out of last place.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (6-0, 19-2): The Zags took care of business at home with an 83-63 thrashing of BYU and a 66-52 win over San Francisco that wasn’t as close as the score indicates – the Dons trailed by 23 with less than two minutes left before scoring the last nine points with the outcome never in doubt. The Zags can claim to have stopped both their opponent’s top players, holding Tyler Haws of BYU and Cole Dickerson of San Francisco without a bucket in the two games. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on January 23rd, 2013

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

Looking Back

Buzzer Beaters – Last-second decisions stunned two WCC teams last week and left one elated.

  • Wearing smiles as they departed Provo were the Saint Mary’s Gaels, who saw their leader, Matthew Dellavedova, execute one of the most efficient take-downs in college hoops this season. Trailing BYU 69-67 on a typically brilliant Tyler Haws leaner in the paint, with 2.5 seconds on the clock and no timeouts left, Delly didn’t hesitate. He sprinted down the right sideline, clapped his hands in case Beau Levesque might have thought about inbounding to someone else, took Levesque’s pass around midcourt, made a neat crossover dribble to avoid a BYU defender and let loose a 35-footer with 0.6 seconds left. Nothing but net, as the announcers say, and the Gaels had a small rush-the-court moment of their own in the cavernous Marriott Center. It was a strange celebration, with the Gaels and their coaches jumping in excitement and the 15,000 BYU fans standing in dazed silence.

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    Matthew Dellavedova’s buzzer beater added another exciting chapter to the Saint Mary’s-BYU rivalry (AP)

  • Two nights later in the venerable Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University, Gonzaga felt the sting of another incredible finish. The Zags were in even better shape against Butler than Saint Mary’s was against BYU: They not only held a 63-62 lead, but also had possession of the ball at midcourt after a seemingly-devastating blunder by Butler’s Alex Barlow. Barlow’s travelling violation trying to make a move similar to Dellavedova’s showed how delicate it is to position one’s body for a shot with time running out. All the Zags had to do was inbound the ball, take the inevitable foul and make some free throws to ice a memorable win. But David Stockton made a lazy, looping pass towards Kelly Olynyk and Butler’s Roosevelt Jones played it like an NFL cornerback. He swooped in front of Olynyk to snatch the pass and covered the rest of the court in time to launch a runner before 3.5 seconds ticked off. Jones’ shot was good, but Gonzaga’s night was ruined.


Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (4-0, 17-2): As painful as it was to endure, Gonzaga’ loss to Butler didn’t affect its position atop the WCC. Coming after a routine dismantling of Portland by 71-49, the week’s efforts left the Zags as the conference’s only undefeated team.
  2. BYU (5-1, 15-5):  Saint Mary’s spoiled BYU’s perfect conference record, but the Cougars bounced back against another undefeated team, San Diego, with an authoritative 74-57 win over the high-flying Toreros. It was Dave Rose’s 200th career win at BYU, and featured a 25-point effort by the unstoppable Haws, following his 23 points against Saint Mary’s. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on January 16th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Killer App: The preseason buzz about Gonzaga’s prospects in 2012-13 centered around the expected emergence of Sam Dower. With the graduation of sturdy post presence Robert Sacre, currently playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, Dower would step out of Sacre’s shadow and become the centerpiece of the Zags’ offense. Hasn’t happened.

Kelly Olynyk (13) just keeps on getting better and better for the Zags (Gonzaga athletics)

Kelly Olynyk (13) just keeps on getting better and better for the Zags (Gonzaga athletics)

Kelly Olynyk, who took off last season to refine his game and body, has blown into the WCC season as the conference’s most dominating player since Omar Samhan of Saint Mary’s in 2010 and Adam Morrison of Gonzaga in 2006. With back-to-back 30-point performances in the Zags’ wins over Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s last week, Olynyk underscored the conference’s somewhat belated announcement that he was Player of the Month for December. His stats are impressive enough – 18.1 PPG on 66.2% field goal shooting – but it is his combination of skills that has made him seemingly unstoppable. He combines a guard’s ball-handling ability in a toned seven-footer’s body with a deadly outside shot and an evolving array of post moves and drives down the lane. It’s a combination that no one in the WCC has figured out how to combat.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (3-0, 16-1): With only one game last week, the Zags were locked and loaded when Saint Mary’s flew into Spokane for an ESPN-featured game on Thursday (January 10). They looked it in an overpowering first half, running up an 18-point lead (46-28) and sending the home crowd into a heightened state of delirium. It was delirium tremens in the second half, however, as the Gaels put up 50 points and moved to within a point at 79-78 with 14 seconds left. With no other option but to foul, however, the Gaels fell short and the Zags prevailed, 83-78.
  2. BYU (4-0, 14-4): Don’t look now but Dave Rose has his team operating with its usual ruthless efficiency, cruising to a 25-point win over visiting Pepperdine (76-51) and then downing Santa Clara in Bronco-land, 82-64. Tyler Haws continued his blistering scoring pace with 24 points in each win, and three other Cougs joined him in double figures against Santa Clara. Matt Carlino’s bald head is not the only evidence that Rose may have resulted to off-season brain surgery to rein in his free-wheeling ways. Playing with eerie patience, Carlino is forcing nothing this year, evidenced by his 3-of-4 shooting from the three-point stripe against Pepperdine. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO…the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on January 8th, 2013

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

Looking Back

  • The Week That Was: It began on New Year’s Eve in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in the packed Gallagher-Iba Arena that is home to the #22 Oklahoma State Cowboys. A tidy 69-68 win behind a clutch three-point shot by Gary Bell with 35.7 seconds left, followed by a pair of free throws by Bell’s backcourt mate, Kevin Pangos, sent the Gonzaga Bulldogs 1,400 miles west on New Year’s Day in advance of a January 3 conference-opener against Pepperdine. After hanging around Malibu for three days, the Zags dispatched the Waves 78-62 before 2,000 somewhat interested spectators, then headed up the California coast where an aroused Santa Clara Bronco squad was waiting on Saturday. The Broncos were fresh off a hard-fought 74-69 win over Bay Area rival San Francisco and still stoked over hanging with Duke in their last non-conference game (Duke eventually won 90-77). Santa Clara at least had the courtesy to provide a record-breaking Leavey Center crowd of nearly 5,000 screaming fans, and battled the Zags harder than the spunky Waves before succumbing 81-74 despite Kevin Foster’s 29 points. “It was a great road trip,” commented Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “Probably the best I’ve ever been on in 25 years.” While some might question Few’s choices for New Year’s week recreation, it left no doubt that the Zags are poised to reclaim the WCC title they held for 11 straight years before surrendering it last year.

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

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

  • Conference Shopping: Few had stirred up his WCC colleagues in the non-conference period by musing out loud whether the Zags might have to take some protective action in case the turmoil among BCS football institutions should infect basketball. His comments came in the wake of the decision by seven Big East Catholic colleges to withdraw from that conference and establish an all-basketball league composed of themselves and a group of as-yet-unnamed like-minded schools. A Gonzaga official let it be known that the Zags were willing to join the Catholic Seven, but so far they haven’t been invited. The Zags’ outstanding non-conference record, however, sheds some light on why the Zags might feel the WCC is beneath them. The victory over Oklahoma State gave them a five-game sweep of Big 12 competition, following other wins this year over West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Baylor. The Big 12 is a power conference while the WCC is an up-an-coming mid-major league, and maybe Gonzaga thinks it has outgrown the small arenas in places like Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary’s.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (2-0, 15-1): It was business as usual for the Zags, even though both Pepperdine and Santa Clara provided some anxious moments. The Waves held Gonzaga to 43.4% shooting and even led 36-35 with 14 minutes left, but just didn’t have the troops to stave off a 78-62 loss. The Waves took some comfort from the 22 minutes played by Jan Maehlen, at seven-feet plus and 300 pounds plus the largest body in the WCC since Brad “Big Continent” Mallard at Saint Mary’s in the 90s. Although Meahlen was credited with only four points and a single rebound, he clogged up the middle enough to help contain the Zags’ rampaging center Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk, who has been overpowering in recent games, totaled a career-best 33 points in the Zags’ win over Santa Clara, highlighting the Broncos’ woeful lack of a post presence. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO…the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on January 2nd, 2013

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

Looking Back

  • Conference Roars Back: Five minutes into the second half of last Saturday’s Duke-Santa Clara game Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski might have had a passing thought along the lines of, “Who are these guys?” His undefeated and number-one-ranked Blue Devils were trailing Santa Clara, 45-44, and the Duke coach would have had a hard time believing this was the same Santa Clara squad that went 0-16 in the WCC last year. What kind of conference produces a last-place team that can threaten the Dukies on their home court, Coach K might have wondered. Duke’s fears eased, as a disastrous flagrant foul by Santa Clara’s Yannick Atanga on Miles Plumlee produced a five-point turnaround that put Duke up 49-44 and led them to a 90-77 win. Santa Clara’s bold attack on the Durham fortress remained on Krzyzewski’s mind afterwards, however, as he remarked, “This was like a February ACC game.” Indeed, Santa Clara’s gutty effort epitomized a strong week for the WCC, as it completed its non-conference season with an 80-44 mark (.645 winning percentage). Gonzaga led the way with strong wins over Baylor at home and Oklahoma State on the road on Monday to burnish a 13-1 record and No. 13 national ranking. Saint Mary’s completed a sweep of the Ivy League with a last-second 70-69 win over Harvard also on Monday following a 78-62 win over Yale, and BYU ran away from Virginia Tech 91-71 behind 42 points from Tyler Haws, the WCC Player of the Week.

    Even in a loss, Kevin Foster and company were tremendous (Getty)

    Even in a loss, Kevin Foster and company were tremendous (Getty)

  • Pangos Bangos: If not for Haws’ outburst against Virginia Tech, the talk of the conference would certainly have been Kevin Pangos’ 31-point effort against Baylor. Last year’s Golden Boy was slumping heading into the showdown with Baylor, scoring under the 10 PPG mark and shooting just 38 percent. But Baylor seemingly forgot what Gonzaga’s foes from last year have surely learned – you can’t leave Pangos alone beyond the three-point line. He drilled the Bears at a 10-of-13 rate, including 7-of-10 from long distance.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (13-1): All systems are go for the Zags to reclaim the WCC title they surrendered last year to Saint Mary’s, as Mark Few’s squad completed its most impressive non-conference slate in several years. Kelly Olynyk has returned from a redshirt year reinvigorated, providing the Zags’ frontcourt an unexpected boost – as if it needed one. With senior Elias Harris providing steady excellence (15.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG), Olynyk chipping in at 14.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG and the Zags’ backcourt coming alive as evidenced by Pangos’ 31 points against Baylor, this is the WCC’s most complete team heading into conference play.

    Kelly Olynyk (right) and Gonzaga head into conference play as the likely favorite (AP)

    Kelly Olynyk (right) and Gonzaga head into conference play as the likely favorite (AP)

  2. Saint Mary’s (11-3): It has not been so smooth for Randy Bennett’s Gaels, as losses to underwhelming Pacific, Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa have revealed flaws in the Saint Mary’s offense. Matthew Dellavedova’s scoring (18.5 PPG) and assist numbers (6.3 APG) are excellent, but teams have been able to keep him from hurting them. Bennett has cobbled together a two-part solution to the power forward spot vacated by Rob Jones, getting a combined output of more than 16 PPG and 10 RPG out of Mitchell Young and Beau Levesque, but it is not as smooth as last year. The Gaels’ salvation may prove to be its excellent guard foursome of Dellavedova, Stephen Holt (11.3 PPG), James Walker III (9.8 PPG) and Jorden Page (8.3 PPG), but they need redshirt sophomore post man Brad Waldow (10.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG) to step up every night if they are to defend their title. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on December 24th, 2012

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

Looking Back

  • Whither success? As of last Tuesday (December 18) things were looking bright for the WCC in its annual power struggle against the other non-power conferences. The conference record of 60-31 added up to a .659 winning percentage and only one member, Portland, had a losing record (4-6). Things took a downward turn with last week’s games, as the WCC went 7-10 and dropped the winning percentage to .606. The biggest contributor to the downturn was San Francisco, which dropped three-out-of-three to go under .500 (5-6) for the first time this season. Loyola Marymount (5-6) and San Diego were also underwater as of yesterday. Conference leaders Gonzaga (11-1), Santa Clara (11-2), Saint Mary’s (8-3) and BYU (8-4) were leading the way, while Pepperdine remains the surprise team with a 7-5 record.
    The conference took a bit of a hit nationally last week, but Kerry Keating's Santa Clara squad keeps trucking along (Getty)

    The conference took a bit of a hit nationally last week, but Kerry Keating’s Santa Clara squad keeps trucking along (Getty)

  • Stat Attack: Conference statistics through December 18 reflected team performances, with Gonzaga leading in scoring margin (+20.9), scoring defense (59.8 PPG) and field goal percentage (52.0%). Saint Mary’s, largely on the strength of its 120-67 blowout of Jackson State, led in scoring offense – 81.3 PPG to Gonzaga’s 80.8 PPG – and the Gaels also topped the league in free throw percentage (78.7%) and three-point field goal percentage (41.0%). How is Santa Clara sustaining its consistent preseason performance? Partly by leading in four categories: assists (18.0 per game), steals (9.4 per game), turnover margin (+7.0 per game) and assist/turnover ratio (198 assists to 121 turnovers, for a 1.6 ratio). Loyola point guard Anthony Ireland continues to lead the league in scoring with 20.7 PPG, followed by Tyler Haws of BYU at 20.3 PPG, Kevin Foster of Santa Clara at 20.2 PPG, Matthew Dellavedova of Saint Mary’s at 19.5 PPG and Brandon Davies of BYU at 19.2 PPG. The most impressive individual stat in the early going is San Francisco forward Cole Dickerson’s 13.1 rebounds per game, which places him among the nation’s leaders.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (11-1): The Zags stayed home and took it easy last week, cruising to a 74-52 win over the Campbell University Fighting Camels out of the Big South Conference.
  2. Santa Clara (11-2): Santa Clara’s redemption tour continues unabated, as the Broncos knocked off Alcorn State and Wagner last week to win its own Cable Car Classic. Read the rest of this entry »
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