WCC Tourney Has Different Significance For Different Gaels

Posted by CNguon on March 8th, 2013

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference. He is in Las Vegas this weekend for the WCC Tournament.

During last year’s West Coast Conference Tournament, Jordan Guisti was an onlooker. Redshirting his freshman year at Saint Mary’s, Guisti could only sit in street clothes as his teammates sweated out wins over San Francisco and Gonzaga to earn the WCC title and an automatic invitation to the NCAA Tournament. There will be no street clothes for Guisti this year, however, as he has emerged as a vital cog in Randy Bennett’s Gael machine. Should Saint Mary’s win its way to the tournament championship game for the fifth year in a row, and should its opponent be Gonzaga for the fifth straight time, Guisti will be on the floor guarding one of the Zags’ point guards, either all-WCC three-point whiz Kevin Pangos or super-sub David Stockton, son of the legendary John Stockton. As Saint Mary’s prepared for the weekend’s showdown in the WCC semifinals on Saturday, Guisti reflected on last year’s introduction to the tournament and his different role this year.

Gael stalwarts Mitchell Young and Matthew Dellavedova, on the right above, have been together since playing youth basketball in Australia. They are pictured at a 2007 match between Australia and New Zealand featuring another Gael star, Patty Mills. Also pictured next to Young is Kate Gaze, who plays for the Saint Mary's women's team, and Jorden Page, who came to Saint Mary's with Dellavedova and Young. In the row behind them looking over Gaze's shoulder in a baseball cap is Clint Steindl, another Aussie who starred for Saint Mary's.

Gael stalwarts Mitchell Young and Matthew Dellavedova, on the right (front row), have been together since playing youth basketball in Australia. They are pictured at a 2007 match between Australia and New Zealand featuring another Gael star, Patty Mills. Also pictured next to Young is Kate Gaze, who plays for the Saint Mary’s women’s team, and Jorden Page, who came to Saint Mary’s with Dellavedova and Young. In the row behind them looking over Gaze’s shoulder in a baseball cap is Clint Steindl, another Aussie who starred for Saint Mary’s. (credit: K. Gaze)

“It was pretty crazy,” Guisti recalled of the scene in the Orleans Arena last year, which was packed for the championship game with, seemingly, 7,000 Gonzaga fans and maybe 500 rooting for the opponent. “There was just an overwhelming number of Gonzaga fans,” he said, although he gave some props to his alma mater’s smaller but no-less-enthusiastic contingent. “Saint Mary’s fans are loud, and they were near our bench so we knew they were there.” Indicating the confidence that has propelled him into the Gaels’ lineup, Guisti said he envisioned himself on the floor as he watched last year’s games from the sidelines. “I remember thinking, ‘Next year that will be me out there.’” It’s next year, and Guisti will definitely be out there.

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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

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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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Morning Five: 03.04.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 4th, 2013

morning5

  1. With top ten teams falling everyday it seems like we are the verge of finally seeing Gonzaga rise to #1 in the rankings. As we pointed out nearly a week ago Gonzaga’s likely rise to #1 will be met by skepticism in many corners as evidenced by the fact that they might not get a #1 seed even if they enter the NCAA Tournament as the #1 team in the polls. However, that shouldn’t diminish how impressive the program’s rise from the archetypal mid-major power to one that has become such a national force that even The New York Times stopped by Spokane for the annual story about the program with a piece by Greg Bishop appropriately titled “Nothing ‘Mid’ About Gonzaga”. We tend to find the “mid-major” label argument tiresome, but the growth and continued excellence of the program has been nothing short of remarkable regardless of whatever moniker you want to afix to them.
  2. Gonzaga might be reaching their post-Casey Cavalry peak later today, but their West Coast Conference rival Saint Mary’s certainly is not after the NCAA handed down some substantial sanctions on Friday (full report PDF here). We have a longer breakdown of the story from Friday afternoon, but the primary charges against the school and its coach, Randy Bennett, are that they failed to monitor an assistant coach in his recruitment of three international prospects as well as Bennett conducting impermissible training and coaching sessions. The assistant coach who was not named in the report, but is believed to be Keith Moss, was hit with a two-year show-cause.  The school was hit with four years of probation, a reduction of scholarships from 13 to 11 in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, elimination of foreign trips until the 2017-18 season, no skill instruction during the next two seasons, and they cannot participate in multi-team events for the next two seasons. Bennett will serve a five-game suspension next year (doesn’t make any sense to us why this should wait until next season) and is prohibited from recruiting off-campus next season. We are sure that St. Mary’s fans are having difficulty finding anything positive from the situation, but this should guarantee them that Bennett will not be leaving them for a higher profile job in the very near future. Of course that is operating under the assumption that administrators care about NCAA violations, which may not be the case.
  3. If Moss is looking for hope after his show-cause he can look to Steve Forbes, who shook off the NCAA’s one-year show-cause (part of the Bruce Pearl investigation) in an unusual way–going to the NJCAA. Forbes’ route is an unusual one in that he did not sit out at all and went straight into another college coaching job. Given his recent coaching success and his success at recruiting at the Division I level we would not be surprised to see his name mentioned in another month when more than a few positions. Still if Forbes is able to make it back to the Division I level (especially as a head coach) he would be joining a very short list of coaches to have done so (Todd Bozeman is the only head coach to have done so, but we are not certain on assistants making the leap).
  4. The decision by St. John’s to suspend D’Angelo Harrison for the rest of the season is one of the more interesting ones we have seen as the Red Storm were still on the bubble when they made the announcement on Friday and we still have not heard a good explanation for why Harrison was suspended for the rest of the season. Having said that we have to give Steve Lavin some credit for making the tough call as it would have been much easier just to put up with whatever Harrison was doing (assuming he isn’t in legal trouble) and finish out the season with a potential NCAA Tournament trip on the line. On top of that there is always the risk that this move will help push Harrison out the door at St. John’s whether that is to another school or (a dumb) decision to enter the NBA Draft.
  5. The University of San Diego bribery case appears to be nearing an end (at least for those of us concerned with the basketball aspect) as the school’s all-time leading scorer, Brandon Johnson, was sentenced to six months in prison for his role in the scandal. Johnson was charged with fixing four games, but continues to deny everything except that he unsuccessfully tried to recruit another player to throw games despite the fact that the FBI has a recorded conversation where Johnson stated he wished he had thrown every game and even offered to throw a NBA Developmental League game. Johnson will begin serving the sentence on May 31 after being granted a delay in sentencing so he could finish out the rest of his season as a youth league coach in Houston. Johnson says he hopes to play professional basketball again at some point, but given the evidence against him we cannot imagine any league taking him with his background.
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St. Mary’s Hit With NCAA Sanctions

Posted by rtmsf on March 1st, 2013

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

The NCAA investigation into Saint Mary’s recruiting that has been hanging over the college’s head for the past year came to a head Friday with the imposition of some strong, although probably not fatal, penalties. Most importantly, the Gaels will lose two scholarships for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, head coach Randy Bennett must serve a five-game suspension next season and may not recruit off-campus during next season, the Gaels are prohibited from multi-team tournaments until 2015-16 and on-campus skill instruction is prohibited for the next two years. The college was also placed on four years’ probation. The Gaels’ scheduled appearance in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii next December is not affected as it had been scheduled before the penalties were announced.

Tough March News For Bennett Today (Photo credit: Jason O. Watson/US Presswire).

Tough March News For Bennett Today (Photo credit: Jason O. Watson/US Presswire).

The Gaels’ troubles stemmed from the activities of a former assistant coach who was not named in the NCAA report but, according to sources close to the investigation, is Keith Moss. Moss was sanctioned by the NCAA for providing impermissible benefits to a potential recruit who was also not named, along with impermissible contact with two other foreign players. Some media sources had speculated that the infractions centered on Saint Mary’s years-long relationship with Australian players and that a former assistant coach from Australia, David Patrick, was the focus of the investigation. That is not the case, as Moss’ infractions dealt solely with athletes he recruited through former relationships in France.

Bennett’s culpability stemmed from the NCAA’s infamous “failure to monitor” dictum, as the body chastised Bennett for not reining in Moss’ activities even though some of them occurred after Moss left the college’s employ in 2009. Bennett was also criticized for not properly supervising on-campus skill instruction conducted at Saint Mary’s during the summers of 2010 and 2011.

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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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Saint Mary’s Proves It Belongs In The NCAA Tournament

Posted by mlemaire on February 24th, 2013

Saturday’s BracketBusters match-up between St. Mary’s and Creighton was billed as a statement game between excellent mid-majors looking to bolster their at-large resumes, but by halftime, it had quickly become a story of two teams headed in seemingly opposite directions. The Gaels got off to a quick start and led by as many as 17 as they coasted to a 74-66 win that was never as close as the score indicated. The win was the 13th in 15 games for St. Mary’s, who has only lost to Gonzaga (twice) since the start of the new year meanwhile it was the fourth loss in six games for the Bluejays, who have squandered a hot start and now find themselves squarely on the bubble for an at-large bid.

The nation’s ninth-most efficient offense was operating on all cylinders in the first half as St. Mary’s used a litany of ball screens to find easy looks underneath and got a huge game from sophomore center Brad Waldow who finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. But the real reason they were able to win so easily was because of their effort on the other side of the ball. It’s no secret that Creighton’s offense runs through their star forward Doug McDermott and the Gaels made sure to pay close attention to where he was on the floor at all times, rotating a host of physical defenders on him and forcing him to play mostly with his back to the basket.

Brad Waldow tallied his first double-double of the season in an important victory for St. Mary's (Gaels athletics)

Brad Waldow tallied his first double-double of the season in an important victory for St. Mary’s (Gaels Athletics)

The National Player of the Year candidate still finished with 22 points, but just nine of those points came in the second half and McDermott became visibly frustrated at times as he jostled with Waldow and fellow forward Mitchell Young for position. 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 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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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Duke, Title Contenders, USC and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2013

tuesdayscribbles

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey

  1. Over the last week we have seen the number of undefeated teams reduced to zero. Now that every team has a loss, the speculation about which team should be #1 is heating up. Those who adhere to the résumé argument will say that Duke deserves to stay atop the polls despite its Saturday loss to NC State and they are absolutely right. The problem is, in my opinion, that ranking teams based on their résumé  alone is the easy way out. We have a NCAA Tournament Selection Committee who does that for us every year in mid-March. There is more to ranking a team than who it has beat and who it has lost to. There are other factors to consider including statistics and extenuating circumstances. When it comes to the Blue Devils as they are currently constructed, I can’t say they are the best team in the country. Duke is a potent offensive team, but there are other areas for concern. While acknowledging that the efficiency numbers say otherwise, I don’t believe Duke is an elite defensive team. The Blue Devils have allowed 70+ points on only four occasions, but all have come against good competition–Minnesota, Louisville, Santa Clara, and NC State. That tells me when the chips are down against good teams, Duke might not be able to get the stops it needs to win a close game away from Cameron Indoor Stadium. Rebounding is also a concern for Mike Krzyzewski’s team despite having Mason Plumlee in the middle. But perhaps the more immediate concern is the injury to Ryan Kelly who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Duke has been quiet about it, with Coach K only saying it could be a long-term recovery. This only creates more doubt about a player who is very important to the team’s success. Duke is certainly among the top three or four teams in the country right now, but with Kelly’s uncertainty, some defensive concerns (especially compared to say, Louisville), and the rebounding Achilles heel, I have a hard time saying Duke is the flat out best team in the nation.

    Ryan Kelly's injury is a major concern for Duke.

    Ryan Kelly’s injury is a major concern for Duke.

  2. Watching Connecticut take it to Louisville in the first half of last night’s Big Monday game probably created some doubt about the Cardinals among those watching. Of course, there are two halves to a basketball game and Louisville showed why it was ranked #1 in this week’s poll with a dominant second half against the Huskies. There are two main keys to Louisville’s success: Peyton Siva and team defense. Siva was on the bench for quite some time in the first half with foul trouble, but came back and took over after intermission. Louisville’s defense, after giving up 54% shooting in the first half and likely enduring the wrath of Rick Pitino at halftime, held Connecticut to 24 points on 26% shooting over the final 20 minutes. Louisville’s ability to lock you down is second to none. There is not another team in the nation that combines the quickness and ball pressure of two all-conference guards, tall and agile forwards, depth, and an eraser with a massive wingspan on the back line. If the Cardinals are to win a national championship in Atlanta this April, defense will be the reason why. While Louisville is certainly better offensively than it was last season, I still have some concerns on that end of the floor. Louisville could have a tough time against a team with a good interior defense (Kansas for example) because three-point shooting it a major weakness. Can the Cardinals score in a halfcourt game (as tournament games usually are) against strong competition when they absolutely have to come up with a bucket? In my view, that is still to be determined.  If the answer is yes, Louisville will be your national champion. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 M5: 01.15.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 15th, 2013

pac12_morning5

  1. The big news on Monday morning was the surpise firing of a Los Angeles area head basketball coach. Less than a month ago, the odds were probably on the rest of this paragraph being about the end of the Ben Howland era in Westwood, but instead, the “other” LA-area Pac-12 basketball program ended the Kevin O’Neill era abruptly. We posted our thoughts on the matter yesterday, but gave scant attention to USC’s new interim head coach, Bob Cantu, who has now outlasted three Trojan head coaches at the institution. Cantu said he plans to try to speed the game up a bit (but really, doesn’t every coach say that?), may opt for more zone defense, and will try to get USC’s two seven-footers (Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby) on the court together at the same time. In addition, he hopes to get transfers Ari Stewart and Renaldo Woolridge, a pair of guys who have been all but forgotten this season, some more run.
  2. Names like Jamie Dixon, Randy Bennett and Dan Monson seem to be the obvious lead choices for the next USC head coaching position, but plenty of other names have surfaced already, including one who is currently employed by another Pac-12 institution: Arizona State assistant Eric Musselman. Musselman, who has been a head coach in the NBA twice, is apparently interested in the job, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports. But, the question is, just how far down the list is Musselman? And, as always, Reggie Theus is also on the list, at least, according to Theus, that is. And, how about a really deep cut? Former Laker and Lobo star Michael Cooper is presently the head women’s basketball coach at USC. Like I said, a seriously deep cut.
  3. Meanwhile, across town, Ben Howland has turned it around, getting his team back into the Top 25 riding a nine-game winning streak. David Wharton of the Los Angeles Times has a big feature on Howland that does a good job of slapping a human face on the often introverted coach. The article touches on his relationship with his players, his assistants, and, as always, UCLA fans. But perhaps most interesting is how Howland has made the change from playing the grind-it-out, defense-first style that has characterized his last decade-plus as a head coach, to the more transition-oriented team that has currently got those rather picky Bruin fans interested again.
  4. As for the team that USC just beat, Utah, head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s job is in no immediate danger, but in order to make sure it stays that way, and in order to make sure he has his team on the right track, he held one-on-one meetings with each player this week to ensure that both coach and player were both on the same page. The meetings are in an effort to let the players know what Krystkowiak needs them to work on and to hear back from the players any suggestions that they have for the coaching staff. With an 0-4 start featuring three hotly contested games now in the rear view mirror, the Utes hope to use these meetings as a springboard for future improvements.
  5. It’s about that time of the year where, for one reason or another, suspensions and other little punishments begin to crop up here and there around the nation, especially on teams that have had their struggles. We saw Eric Moreland get suspended last week (and it was announced today that he’ll return Saturday against USC, making it a three-game suspension in total), but we glossed over the fact that Stanford point guard Chasson Randle got a slap on the wrist for being late to a shootaround prior to the game against Washington, having to start the game on the bench. He still wound up earning 28 minutes (and scoring 16 effective points along the way), but it’s something to stick in the back of your mind, given Stanford’s early struggles.
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Kevin O’Neill Out As USC Head Coach

Posted by AMurawa on January 14th, 2013

Last we saw USC’s basketball team, they were snapping a 14-game road losing streak while demolishing Utah in what was maybe their best performance in about 22 months. Talented junior forward DeWayne Dedmon had just put the finishing touches on a third consecutive excellent performance, the backcourt triumvirate of Jio Fontan, J.T. Terrell, and Byron Wesley had played their best game as a collective unit, and the Trojans found themselves squarely in the middle of the Pac-12 standings. And for these, admittedly diminished, accomplishments, head coach Kevin O’Neill was rewarded on Monday morning with… his walking papers? Really?

Kevin O'Neill Was Canned Monday, Despite A Road Win on Saturday

Kevin O’Neill Was Canned Monday, Despite A Road Win on Saturday

The surprise is not so much that O’Neill’s job was in jeopardy – a 13-36 record over the past year and a half guaranteed that, not to mention his brusque manner and often unappetizing style of play – but that athletic director Pat Haden was so intent on getting rid of O’Neill that he would make the change in the middle of the year and at a time when USC basketball was on a relative upswing. Two reasons for the timing of the change have been speculated upon: First, the idea that O’Neill had lost the locker room, and secondly, the possibility, as speculated by a Jeff Goodman source, that Haden didn’t want to be tied to O’Neill for the long term, so he got rid of him before this team could turn the corner and win enough games to earn the head coach another year. Both of those ideas are a little cynical, so it is fair to point out that perhaps Haden thinks that this team has the capability of playing better than it has to this point, believes that he can get more out of his team with Bob Cantu as the new interim head coach, and, rather than resting on the laurels of a win over Utah as an accomplishment worth celebrating, he was willing to make the hard choice now.

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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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