O26 Weekly Awards: Saint Louis, Billy Baron, David Carter & Portland

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 15th, 2014

Conference play was in full swing this week, offering up numerous monster performances, several sizable comebacks and just plain excellent basketball games (see: Akron vs. Ohio on Sunday night… seriously, watch the replay). Let’s get to it with some weekly awards for top O26 performers.

O26 Team of the Week

Dwayne Evans and the Billikens are our O26 Team of the Week. (Robert Leifheit Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports)

Dwayne Evans and the Billikens are our O26 Team of the Week. (Robert Leifheit/USA TODAY Sports)

Saint Louis. With all due respect to UMass and VCU, last week showed why Saint Louis remains the team to beat in the A-10 until proven otherwise. The Billikens — with relatively little fanfare, despite jumping out to the school’s best start in 20 years — quietly tipped off conference play at Rhode Island on Tuesday night against a fast-improving Rams team fresh off an impressive win at LSU. It had all the makings of a trap game, with Saint Louis perhaps looking ahead to its looming clash against Dayton on Saturday. And sure enough, the Billikens almost fell into the trap; Dan Hurley’s group gave them all they could handle for a full 40 minutes. Trailing by a seemingly-insurmountable 11 points in the second half, the Rams mounted a 23-7 run to take a five-point lead with under nine to go, energizing the crowd and putting all the pressure on the occasionally-stagnant Saint Louis offense. It might have spelled trouble had Jordair Jett not been having the best offensive game of his career. But indeed he was, and the senior guard poured in 11 points in the game’s final nine minutes, knocking down a huge three and several key free throws to give the Billikens the one-point edge with a few ticks remaining before coming up with the game-clinching steal in the final moment. In all, the eventual conference player of the week finished with a career high 31 points and led his team to a 59-58 victory.

It was Saturday’s tilt with Dayton that was tabbed as a potential loss, with the offensively-proficient Flyers coming in as slight favorites at home according to KenPom. Saint Louis was having none of that, though. The Billikens took the lead midway through the first half and never let go, playing vintage, suffocating defense and finding enough patient looks offensively to coast to a 67-59 victory. It was the type of game we’ve seen so many times from this team: The opponent, ostensibly within reach, scraps and claws until it becomes clear that the Saint Louis defense simply will not let up — each player in position, rotating to their spots, aggressively defending the three point line — and a comeback is completely hopeless. Dwayne Evans led the charge offensively with a crisp 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Now 15-2 (2-0 A-10), the Billikens are ranked second overall in defensive efficiency, have crept into the AP Top 25 and again look well-equipped to make a run at the conference title, and perhaps more, by season’s end.

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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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Dana Altman and the Rise of Oregon Basketball

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 8th, 2013

Four short years ago, the Oregon basketball program was nearly left for dead. Of the Ducks’ 12 losses to Pac-10 opponents, 11 of those came by double figures. There were also losses to teams like Portland and Montana, and while McArthur Court was still a classic, its age was starting to show in a bad way. In January of the 2009-10 season, the Oregon football team went to its first Rose Bowl in 14 years, and it felt like the hoops team was getting left behind in all of the athletic excitement.

Enter Dana Altman the very next season. Altman was hired after a lengthy search, one that reportedly had many many high profile targets turn down the job. The former Creighton head man made a splash immediately, sweeping the Civil War series with Oregon State, upsetting a top 20 Washington team, and making it to the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament. They didn’t stop there, though, and after pulling an invitation to the CBI to close the season, the Ducks beat Altman’s former team in the best of three championship series in thrilling fashion. Also, halfway through the year, Oregon unveiled its state of the art replacement to The Pit, the Matthew Knight Arena. While drawing criticism from most of the nation for its oddly-drawn floor art, Oregon fans, and more importantly recruits, were drawn to it.

Oregon's NBA-Like Arena Has Helped The Resurgence Of The Hoops Program (credit: Brian Feulner)

Oregon’s NBA-Like Arena Has Helped The Resurgence Of The Hoops Program (credit: Brian Feulner)

Over the last two seasons, Oregon has continued to gain momentum. It won 24 games in 2011-12, including road contests at Nebraska, Arizona, and Oregon State. That season concluded with a trip to the NIT, and the Ducks were bounced in an entertaining rivalry game at Washington in the quarterfinals. Behind key hustle players like E.J. Singler, Carlos Emory, and Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon continued its rise up the postseason ladder in the last year’s campaign. Compiling two streaks of five straight wins and one of eight consecutive victories, Altman’s squad put it all together in March, winning the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas and pulling back-to-back upsets as a #12 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The run ended against top overall seed and eventual national champion Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen.

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The RTC Interview Series: One on One with Eric Reveno

Posted by WCarey on September 4th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

In a world of ever-evolving technology, Portland coach Eric Reveno is recognized as one of the leaders in bringing the use of technology to the world of college basketball. To paint you a portrait of Reveno’s use of technology and how the coach is viewed in the basketball community, here is a snippet of his biography on the Pilots’ website:

“Reveno, long recognized as a leader in the use of sports performance analysis technology, spoke in Sydney, Australia during the Fall of 2008 at a worldwide summit hosted by SportsTec, one of the foremost providers of video & technology solutions to the international sports community.  The cutting edge approach to technology has become a staple of the Pilot program in teaching, player development and recruiting.  As a result, Reveno was the lone representative from the United States asked to speak to an audience of performance professionals from some of the top sports leagues and organizations in the world.  Dave Telep, ESPN.com Senior Recruiting Analyst, said that, ‘Reveno is unofficially the most technologically advanced man we’ve met in college basketball. His new iPhone is wired up to the point where he’s got his recruiting database, clips of his offense, directions to gyms in Vegas AND his favorite Johnny Cash songs all in one.'”

After speaking with USC coach Andy Enfield, UCLA coach Steve Alford, and Butler coach Brandon Miller in the past few weeks, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with Portland coach Eric Reveno (@CoachReveno) about his use of technology, his career, and the rise of the Portland Pilots basketball program.

Rush the Court: Recently you tweeted about the opening of a Director of Basketball Technology position on your staff. What exactly does the position entail and how did such a position come about?

Eric Reveno's Use of Technology Sets Him Apart in a Static Coaching Business

Eric Reveno’s Use of Technology Sets Him Apart in a Static Coaching Business

Eric Reveno: The position really entails everything related to technology in our basketball program that we utilize to try to make us better. We use technology to help our players be the best they can be and our team be the best it can be. Our use of technology ranges from the obvious – video coordinating, video editing, statistical analysis – to the flat screen TV that we use as our Pilot Teaching Board. It serves as a video kiosk where players can come up and press different things to look at scouting reports, video edits, playbook stuff, and inspirational quotes. The position is essentially an IT person for the basketball office. It is a great entry-level position in-terms of getting involved in a basketball program, but a lot of what the job will be about is the technology. We want someone who is familiar and comfortable with what we use and how we use it. The position came about because we had a vision for a position that went beyond a usual video coordinator position. We gave the position a lofty title to help inspire greater things from the position.

RTC: What attributes are you looking for in a candidate to fill that position?

Reveno: Familiarity with sports technology and video editing software, comfort level and experience with Synergy software, experience in a college basketball program would be helpful, and knowledge of analytical statistics. We have received a good amount of interest and have 30 candidates that are all pretty intriguing for a variety of reasons. We have guys who have a passion for basketball with a background in analytics. We have guys who have been managers for college basketball programs, so they have some experience with video editing work. We have not really begun sorting the list of candidates out yet, but it is an impressive list of candidates right now.

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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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