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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Morning Five: 10.15.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 15th, 2013

morning5

  1. It’s October 15, the traditional date of Midnight Madness, and although nobody to our knowledge is honoring Lefty Driesell by meeting at the campus track and running a six-minute mile illuminated by car headlights at each turn, the feeling is still pretty much the same — college basketball is nearby. This Friday night will feature the annual ESPNU Midnight Madness coverage of a number of prominent schools holding their celebrations, and a mere 21 days later we’ll jump right into the opening games of the season. Despite all that, the unknown is still more interesting than the known to many people, which explains why recruiting chatter and hype dominate the headlines  and social media. The biggest news on this year’s Columbus Day? Class of 2015 superstar forward Ben Simmons, coveted by every major program in America including Duke and Kentucky, verbally committed to LSU. As The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg explains in his background piece, Simmons’ commitment to a school that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2009 makes more sense with the knowledge that Simmons’ godfather/LSU assistant coach, David Patrick, played overseas basketball with his father in Australia and the families are apparently quite close. Regardless of the reasons for the commitment, LSU’s Johnny Jones is loading up on talent, especially in the frontcourt.
  2. Patrick, an Australian himself, was the primary link to a number of Aussie stars (including Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova) that he recruited to play for his former employer, Saint Mary’s College, in Moraga, California. Although he was not personally implicated in any wrongdoing during his three years as an assistant coach there, the NCAA found that the program had committed several recruiting violations and slapped the school with a four-year “failure to monitor” probation last spring. As a result, the Gaels’ head coach, Randy Bennett, received a five-game suspension along with a one-year off-campus recruiting restriction, and those penalties were upheld on appeal Monday by the Infractions Committee. During Bennet’s nearly two-week layoff, which will begin in late December and include the first Gonzaga game in Spokane, he will not be allowed to perform any basketball-related activities whatsoever. Can you imagine a Type A personality like Bennett taking a midseason vacation? The NCAA should seriously consider putting an ankle monitor on him during those days.
  3. Wiggins, Wiggins, Wiggins. Remember the hype we mentioned above? Well, after a week that featured the precocious 18-year old as a Sports Illustrated cover boy in an effort to introduce him to America as the Next. Big. Thing., everybody else is now talking and writing about Andrew Wiggins. Even LeBron James got into the act, telling Rock Chalk Blog before a preseason game in Kansas City over the weekend that his best advice for Wiggins is simply to “live in the present.” For a far more thoughtful analysis of Wiggins’ identity and game, TSN‘s Mike DeCourcy has that covered. It’s a well-deserved read to better understand the young phenom, especially given the notion that Wiggins revealed “his true identity a half-dozen times or so each afternoon with a sequence that perhaps only three people on the planet are capable of executing.” Wow. Finally, Grantland chimes in with a piece from Corban Gable called “Livin’ for Wiggins,” a fan manifesto that attempts to outline how one excitable Jayhawker prone to hyperventilation is going to make it through this season. Hey, whatever works, so long as his boss Simmons stays away from college basketball.
  4. The next huge thing doesn’t just apply to teenagers in sports; it sometimes also figures in the management and administrative components of the games we love. Anybody who has marked the meteoric rises of successful young coaches like Brad Stevens, Shaka Smart and Josh Pastner knows that. Myron Medcalf from ESPN.com writes that with these coaches’ continued success, many administrators, especially at mid-major schools, are becoming less hesitant in pulling the trigger on 30-something candidates who show that they really know and can teach the game. It actually makes a good deal of sense. As he notes, recruiting 365 days a year takes a tremendous amount of attention and energy, something that younger coaches have in spades. But truthfully, this should surprise nobody who works in the business world, a similarly cutthroat environment where strong quantitative and analytical skills combined with greater sophistication with technology give the young guys a leg up on many of their older colleagues.
  5. The AP reported on Monday that the SEC will announce later today that it plans on making Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena its “primary” site for the annual SEC Tournament. The tourney will bounce back and forth between Nashville and several other cities (Atlanta, Tampa and Saint Louis) over the next seven years, but from 2021-26 the Music City will hold exclusive ownership over the event. We’ll have more on this later today, but there’s no question that Nashville’s geographic location nearest the five northern SEC schools that take basketball the most seriously has something to do with this decision. The Big Blue Behemoth is merely three hours to the northeast, and both Tennessee schools along with Missouri and Arkansas also do a good job supporting basketball. This is a win from both a competitive and financial standpoint.
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NCAA Game Analysis: First Four – Tuesday Night

Posted by BHayes on March 19th, 2013

The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament begins tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the first two games this evening.

#16 North Carolina A&T vs. #16 Liberty — Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.

John Caleb Sanders Continuing His Hot-Shooting Ways Would Be A Huge Boost For The Flames In Dayton

John Caleb Sanders Continuing His Hot-Shooting Ways Would Be A Huge Boost For The Flames In Dayton

Nothing says NCAA Tournament like a match-up between North Carolina A&T and Liberty now, does it? Like it or not, the First Four is the official tip-off for the Big Dance, and this year’s opening act pits the tournament champions from the MEAC against one of the unlikeliest Big Dance participants ever –- the 15-20 Liberty Flames. The Big South Champs aren’t the only party crashers here, however.  Having entered the MEAC tournament under .500 and as the #7 seed, A&T was nearly as long a shot to make this field. The Aggies are easily the worst offensive team in this field of 68, choosing instead (a generous explanation) to hang their hat on the defensive end, where they rank 81st nationally in defensive efficiency. Springy senior Austin Witter is the key to the stingy defense, having blocked 11.8% of opponents two-point field goal attempts, the 16th highest rate in the country. Unfortunately for he and the Aggies, Liberty does most of their offensive work from beyond the arc and at the line. With guards John Caleb SandersDavon Marshall and Tavares Speaks all averaging at least 13.0 PPG, Liberty has proven to be a capable offensive unit, especially of late. The same praise cannot be afforded their defense, however, as LIU-Brooklyn is the only team in the field with a worse defensive efficiency rating than the Flames. So yes, it will be a titanic battle between Liberty’s 303d ranked defense and NC A&T’s 317th ranked offense. Ultimately though, I think the difference-making happens when Liberty has the ball. A&T’s tough defense notwithstanding, we like the Flames to continue their hot shooting and extend a postseason life that they could have never expected to have.

The RTC Certified PickLiberty

 #11 Middle Tennessee vs. #11 Saint Mary’s — Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 9:10 pm ET on truTV.

If Middle Tennessee Has Anything To Say About It, Matthew Dellavedova Will Be Donning The Saint Mary's Jersey For A Final Time Tuesday Night

If Middle Tennessee Has Anything To Say About It, Matthew Dellavedova Will Be Donning The Saint Mary’s Jersey For A Final Time Tuesday Night

The nightcap on Tuesday features two of the final teams to make the NCAA Tournament field, with Middle Tennessee and Saint Mary’s facing off for the chance to meet Memphis on Thursday in Auburn Hills. The Gaels are no strangers to the big stage, as Matthew Dellavedova and company are making their third appearance in the last four years. Saint Mary’s shoots the ball both well and often from deep. The Gaels convert on 37% of their tries from distance, with those points accounting for nearly a third of their total points scored this season. Dellavedova is the leading scorer and unquestioned leader of this bunch, but Stephen Holt and Beau Levesque are both double-figure scorers capable of carrying the offensive load for a night. Middle Tennessee is not a bad offensive team in its own right (73rd nationally in offensive efficiency), but Kermit Davis has concocted a decidedly different recipe for success. Do not be surprised if you see 11 different Blue Raiders touch the floor on Tuesday night, and among that group are seven players who average at least six points a contest, with just one (Marcos Knight at 12.5 PPG) in double-figures. The Middle Tennessee depth is clearly impressive, and it has also helped the Blue Raiders on the defensive end. Middle Tennessee is 20th nationally in defensive efficiency, also ranking in the top-25 in a slew of important defensive categories. The most relevant of those metrics for its match-up with the Gaels is three-point percentage defense, where MTSU ranks 14th nationally, allowing just 29.5% shooting from behind the arc. It’s a particularly damning piece of evidence for believers in the Gaels, and the Middle Tennessee statistical profile would suggest that the Blue Raiders have more than just a fighting chance in this one. Call me a sucker for the sentimental story, but despite the aforementioned statistical evidence, I can’t pick against Saint Mary’s here. A brilliant career lives to see another day, as Dellavedova is the difference in what could be a thriller in Dayton.

The RTC Certified Pick:  Saint Mary’s

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Gonzaga Soars into the NCAAs as WCC Champs and a Probable #1 Seed

Posted by CNguon on March 12th, 2013

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference. He filed this report after the WCC Championship game in Las Vegas Monday night.

“I’ll watch some TV, see if there are any upsets.”Randy Bennett.

That’s it for Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett while waiting for the selection committee to decide if his Gaels will receive an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. Following a 65-51 shellacking at the hands of Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s must hope its overall body of work in 2012-13 merits a bid. “Our RPI today was 28,” Bennett noted following the loss in the WCC Tournament championship game. “That’s better than it was last year,” when the Gaels won both the regular season WCC title and the tournament championship, which confers an automatic bid. “We’ve only lost to one team (Gonzaga) since Christmas,” he added. “That’s a pretty good season.” Indeed, the Gaels finished 27-6, notching more than 25 wins for the sixth season in a row. What they haven’t been able to do is garner an NCAA bid in back-to-back seasons, playing in the NIT in both 2009 and 2011. All Bennett can do is wait for Selection Sunday to see if his team breaks that pattern.

After its xx-xx loss Monday night, all Randy Bennett (middle) and Saint Mary's can do now is wait. (Getty)

After its 65-51 loss Monday night, all Randy Bennett (middle) and Saint Mary’s can do now is wait. (Getty)

Gonzaga’s Mark Few has the opposite problem of Bennett — namely, managing expectations that come from a prediction by several bracketologists that Gonzaga will follow its first-ever #1 national ranking with its first ever #1 seed in the NCAA’s West Region. Few bent over backwards following the Saint Mary’s win not to say anything that might jinx the #1 seed. What Few did was praise the current version of his always-powerful Zag machine. “I think defensively we’re better than any group I’ve had,” Few said, noting his team held Saint Mary’s to 35.7 percent shooting. “Our DER [Defensive Efficiency Rating] is higher than it’s ever been. That’s something we chart very closely.”

Like Bennett, all Few can do is wait for the selection committee’s decision on Sunday. He won’t have to root for any upsets, however, as Gonzaga has cleared almost every hurdle before it in a record-breaking 31-2 season.

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Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s Again For All the Marbles

Posted by CNguon on March 11th, 2013

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

This will be the fifth straight year of a dramatic showdown in the West Coast Conference tournament between Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. On the line tonight, as it has been in four previous showdowns, is an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament – something that means more for Saint Mary’s than Gonzaga.

The Zags are darlings of the basketball world this year, reeling off 30 wins (a school record) and earning a #1 national ranking. Their participation as a high seed in the NCAA tourney is a given, with many pundits according them a #1 seed in the West Region. They want to give themselves every chance to maximize their standing, however, and can’t afford to stumble over the Gaels. Many so-called experts are pooh-poohing the Zags’ accomplishments because, they say, going 16-0 in the WCC pales in comparison to battling through a Big East, ACC or Big Tem season. Those people overlook the Zags’ 5-0 record against teams in the Big 12 (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor and West Virginia), which indicates they’d fare pretty well in a Power Six conference.

For the fifth straight year, these two guys meet up to decide the WCC tournament crown.

For the fifth straight year, these two guys meet up to decide the WCC tournament crown.

Saint Mary’s faces the specter of dismissal to the NIT if they fail to win the automatic bid, however. That fate befell them after losing to Gonzaga in the WCC championship games in 2009 and 2011, and they got to the NCAAs only by defeating the Zags in 2010 and last year. Many bracketologists contend the Gaels will be in whether they win or lose tonight because they finished the WCC regular season with a 14-2 record, losing only to Gonzaga, defeated Creighton in a BracketBuster game and escaped the WCC Tourney semifinals with a gut-wrenching 69-66 overtime win over San Diego on Saturday. But Randy Bennett’s boys have experienced the kick in the gut that comes with an NCAA rejection and don’t want to put their fate in the hands of the selection committee.

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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

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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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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