76 Classic Superlatives

Posted by AMurawa on November 28th, 2011

It wasn’t the sexiest bracket you’ve ever seen in a Thanksgiving weekend tournament. There were no teams ranked in the top 25 prior to this weekend and no player of the year candidates to be found anywhere. But there were some great coaches, some solid teams expected to contend for their respective conference titles, and some good basketball played at the 76 Classic in Anaheim this weekend. By way of putting a bow on this tournament, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the weekend.

Champion: St. Louis – The Billikens take home the championship without ever being seriously challenged this weekend. They posted a 60.6 effective field goal percentage over the three games, nailing 29 threes, and as a team they posted almost a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But where the Billikens really excelled was defensively. They limited their opponents to less than seven offensive rebounds per game, forced almost 15 turnovers per game, held their opponents to under 45% shooting from the field, and did all of that while only allowing their opponents 15 free throws per game. With Brian Conklin emerging as an efficient offensive threat, Kwamain Mitchell returning to the fold as a great floor general and playmaker for the team, and a deep and talented bench capable of carrying out head coach Rick Majerus’ game plan, this is a disciplined team that can give all sorts of teams trouble this season.

Brian Conklin, Saint Louis

Brian Conklin Turned In A Career Weekend In Earning The Most Outstanding Player Award At The 76 Classic (Credit: Chris Lee, McClatchy Newspapers)

Surprise Team: Santa Clara/Oklahoma – Both the Broncos and the Sooners came away from this weekend with a 2-1 record, and both teams come away with their share of converts. When Santa Clara senior forward Marc Trasolini went down with a torn ACL in September a lot of people counted out the Broncos. That injury left the Broncos with an inexperienced frontline to pair with its prolific backcourt of junior Kevin Foster (who broke Steve Nash’s all-time record for three-pointers at Santa Clara this weekend) and sophomore Evan Roquemore, but this weekend Kerry Keating’s team proved that those guards (along with junior wing Ray Cowels) were good enough to put this team on their back. Meanwhile, not much was expected of an Oklahoma team that went 14-18 last season. With more or less the same roster returning, similar results were expected, but under new head coach Lon Kruger and with new point guard Sam Grooms taking the reins, the Sooners advanced to the championship game before getting outclassed by the Billikens. While the Sooners should not be expected to contend for a Big 12 title, Kruger definitely has this program headed in the right direction, and this team will rise up and knock off some teams this year.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 4th, 2011

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

A Look Back

With the pre-conference season all wrapped up, let’s look all the way back to October and the WCC coaches poll for a reset on conference expectations. The coaches overwhelmingly picked Gonzaga to finish first, giving the Zags 48 total votes and six for first place. By a total of 42 to 39 they also picked Loyola Marymount to finish second over Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara (28 votes) to finish fourth and Portland (25 votes) fifth. How would the coaches vote if the polling were held today?

Gonzaga, with quality wins over Baylor, Marquette, Xavier and Oklahoma State, would probably retain its rank as conference favorite because no other team either matched the scope and difficulty of the Zags’ schedule, or conquered as many top-notch teams. Only Saint Mary’s, with wins over St. John’s, which might make some noise in the Big East, and Long Beach State, which could challenge for the Big West title, came close. The Gaels did post wins over two BCS teams, Texas Tech and Mississippi State, but those teams had early-season troubles that dimmed their luster.

It would be hard for WCC coaches or anyone to favor Loyola Marymount over Saint Mary’s based on results so far, and the same could be said for Santa Clara over Portland. It is safe to say that the performances of Loyola-Marymount and Santa Clara have been disappointing, while the Gaels and Pilots have surprised opposing coaches. The coaches’ early-season predictions notwithstanding, a survey of informal discussions around the league breaks down the race this way: Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s for first place; Portland in third; Loyola Marymount in fourth; Santa Clara and San Francisco in a dog fight for fifth; Pepperdine for seventh and San Diego in the cellar. Those last two match what the coaches saw in October, as neither team has done much to change perceptions.

Player(s) of the Week

Saint Mary’s senior point guard Mickey McConnell was named Player of the Week both by the West Coast Conference and TheHoopsReport.com after sterling efforts in Gael victories over Mississippi State and Hartford. He rocked Mississippi State for 28 points and 13 assists – his first double-double of the season – and followed that up with a 21-point, seven assist game against Hartford. The effort in the Gaels’ final two pre-conference games brought his scoring average to 14.2 ppg and assist total to 5.4 per game. McConnell’s 2.68 assist to turnover ratio is ranked 26th nationally, and he is shooting 46.3% from beyond the arc and 90.5% from the free throw line.

Power Rankings:

1. Saint Mary’s (12-2) has breezed to six wins in a row since being dusted 69-55 by San Diego State on Dec. 1, and has found its groove with a lineup featuring four players averaging double figures: Mickey McConnell at 14.2 PPG, Jones at 13.7 PPG, Matthew Dellavedova at 13 PPG, and Young (nominally a substitute, Young is garnering the majority of minutes at post) at 11.1 PPG. Clint Steindl, the fifth starter, is not far behind at 8.4 PPG, and can rightfully point to his duties as the Gaels’ primary defensive stopper as an excuse. Besides, Steindl, currently averaging nearly 42% on three-point shots, can light it up when the occasion warrants. Team balance, unselfishness and good backcourt play from McConnell and Dellavedova – averaging nearly 12 assists per game between them – have Randy Bennett smiling as league play begins.

2. Portland (12-3), also cruising with five straight wins after a lopsided 94-72 loss at Washington, has answered most of the questions critics might have raised following the loss of several quality players from last year. Yes, Luke Sikma can put up All-Conference numbers consistently at one forward spot; yes, Kramer Knutson is a steady warrior at the post position; yes, Mitrovic is ready to be a starter, possibly a star, in his junior year; yes, Jared Stohl can still scorch it from three-point land, and yes, either junior Eric Waterford, true freshman Tim Douglas or sophomore transfer Derrick Rodgers – or a combination of the three – can provide leadership at the point. Coach Eric Reveno has done his usual excellent job of molding his troops into a smooth-flowing force, ready to challenge Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s as the conference season unfolds.

3. Gonzaga (10-5), also boasting a six-game winning streak – notice a pattern here? – can actually breathe easier as the WCC gets underway. Following a whirlwind 36 hours consisting of 1) pasting formerly 11-2 and cocky Oklahoma State by 21 points (73-52) on Friday night in Spokane, and 2) flying cross-country to Winston-Salem, NC, for a 73-63 win over Wake Forest on Sunday, the Zags returned home to await Portland for an early home showdown on Saturday (1/8). Piece of cake. Mark Few has a core of Steven Gray (14.1 PPG), Robert Sacre (13.1 PPG) and Elias Harris (12.3 PPG) that is functioning smoothly enough to almost allow him to forget his trouble finding a commanding point guard. Meech Goodson, holding down the position for the third year in a row, is providing only 5.4 PPG and 3.3 assists per game, but no one else has been able to sit him down. Another troubling position for Few has been the second forward spot opposite Harris, as promising German freshman Mathis Monninghoff (there is an umlaut over the first vowel to make it sound like “Merhninghoff”), recently went down with an ankle injury after starting five straight games. Few swapped in another Mathis, this one a 6’5 freshman from France whose last name is Keita, and received a good effort in the wins over Okie State and Wake.

4. Santa Clara (9-7) is sitting in fourth place, right where the coaches predicted it to finish, but has hardly cemented its position with inconsistent pre-conference play. Zero quality wins, troubling losses such as 69-59 to Pacific and 54-53 to Delaware in its own holiday tournament, and a shifting lineup have raised questions about Kerry Keating’s squad. Kevin Foster has moved right back into a starring role after a year’s absence with injury, and Keating has uncovered another budding backcourt star in freshman Evan Roquemore. But Keating apparently has been unhappy with Marc Trasolini’s contribution in the frontcourt, bringing him off the bench instead of starting him, and sophomore Niyi Harrison is even farther down in Keating’s doghouse. That leaves the Broncos with a starting lineup of second-year forward Chris Cunningham, rugged Aussie Ben Dowdell and guard-forward Ray Cowels to go with Foster and Roquemore. Even with Trasolini contributing heavily off the bench, as he did with 22 points in the Broncos 85-70 win over Fordham on December 30, that is not a lineup calculated to challenge anyone above them. Is it strong enough to fend off Loyola-Marymount or San Francisco for fourth place in the conference standings? We’ll soon have the answer to that question.

5. Loyola Marymount (7-7) enters the 2011 conference race hobbled with injuries as it did last year. From a lineup that promised to feature 6’10 redshirt freshman Edgar Garibay, 6’8 sophomore strong forward Ashley Hamilton and 6’7 scoring whiz Drew Viney in the frontcourt, the Lions have morphed to Viney and freshman Godwin Okonji. Garibay has still not fully recovered from the ACL injury that sidelined him last year and Hamilton broke his hand a few weeks ago. To supplement the survivors, Max Good uses a three-guard lineup of super senior Vernon Teel, Big East refugee Larry Davis and newcomer Anthony Ireland, subbing for the injured Jarred DuBois. Ireland and Okonji, a 20-year-old from Nigeria who spent two years at Nevada’s Findlay Prep, are true freshmen forced into carrying a heavy load. The Lions’s pre-season-ending 87-80 road win over UC Irvine on Dec. 30 gave hints at what Good’s patched-up crew can accomplish: Viney and Teel combined for 42 points and Ireland chipped in 15 point and six assists. They will need to keep it up for the next eight weeks if the Lions are going to redeem their pre-season promise.

6. San Francisco (6-9) probably can’t take much solace from blasting Division II Dominican University 68-47 on New Year’s Day, but the Dons also topped Hampton 69-57 two days earlier to enter the conference season with a two-game win streak. Rex Walters counts on a threesome of Michael Williams, Rashad Green and Angelo Coloiaro to carry the scoring load, augmented by true freshman Cody Doolin at the point. The problem has been in the frontcourt, where Perris Blackwell and Moustapha Diarra, backed up by freshman Justin Raffington, have been inconsistent. The Dons’ hopes of moving up in the WCC standings will get an early test, as they kick off the conference race on Saturday, Jan. 8 at Santa Clara and travel the following Thursday to Saint Mary’s.

7. Pepperdine (6-11) was buoyed by an 84-64 home win on Jan. 2 over up-and-down Seattle (wins over Virginia, Oregon State and Montana State), but hope that Keion Bell’s absence from the game was only precautionary. The Waves will need a healthy Bell if they are going to emulate his YouTube antics and leap over their opponents when conference play begins.

8. San Diego (3-11) proved its harshest critics wrong with a Christmas Day win over Utah (67-64), but reverted to form on New Year’s Day with a 76-54 hammering by North Carolina State in Raleigh, NC. Those critics posited that the Toreros might not beat a Division I opponent this season (its other wins were over Occidental and LaVerne), but Bill Grier’s crew scuttled that by beating once-powerful Utah. Next order of business is adding some WCC wins to the ledger.

A Look Ahead

You don’t have to look far ahead to get some early answers to questions about possible conference standings: Saint Mary’s opens WCC play with a Thursday (January 6) battle against Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles; Portland travels to Gonzaga on Saturday (January 8); San Francisco heads up Highway 101 to Santa Clara on Saturday also; and Pepperdine entertains San Diego on Thursday and Saint Mary’s on Saturday. A couple of upset possibilities (Loyola Marymount over Saint Mary’s, Portland over Gonzaga), a key battle for fifth place (Santa Clara vs. San Francisco) and a leg up on avoiding the cellar (Pepperdine vs. San Diego) all in the first week of conference play.

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Checking in on… the America East

Posted by jstevrtc on January 8th, 2010

Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the America East Conference.

2009-10 America East  (Conf/Overall)

  1. Vermont                                   1-0       10-5
  2. Stony Brook                             1-0       9-5
  3. Maine                                          0-0       8-5
  4. New Hampshire                    0-0       5-6
  5. Albany                                        0-0       5-10
  6. Binghamton                            0-0       5-10
  7. Hartford                                    0-0       2-11
  8. Boston University              0-1       5-8
  9. UMBC                                          0-1       1-13

Hottest Team- Maine

Even with the roll Vermont is on, it is hard to ignore the three-game winning streak that Maine have put together. The win over Columbia in New York was expected, but no one could have predicted the win at BC, and the Black Bears finished it off by snapping Princeton’s six-game winning streak.

Stud Player- Marqus Blakely- Sr. F, Vermont, 22 PPG/12 RPG

It seems Blakely may have taken offense to the most recent nomination of classmate Maurice Joseph as Stud Player of the week. In the last three games Blakely has recorded a double-double in each, reminding us who makes Vermont go.

Thoughts on the AE

In the last two weeks we have seen two teams riding three-game winning streaks before facing off in their conference opener. One had beaten a team for the first time since 1924-25. It was the America East’s third victory against a BCS conference school this year. The other had been riding one of the greatest players this league has seen in winning eight out of their last nine. All the while the preseason favorite fell in their first game to the Seawolves who demonstrated their dominance over the state of Massachusetts.

Team Notes

Marqus Blakely has led the way for the Catamounts recently. Vermont has won three straight and eight of their last nine. The only loss in the streak was to Delaware, 56-50. The most recent victory was a 73-58 win over UMBC in Vermont’s first conference game. In the victory, Blakely registered 17 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists. It was his third straight double-double and eighth on the season (the school record is 17). In the previous two victories he recorded 26 points and 11 rebounds at St. Mary’s and 23 points and 11 rebounds at Marist. The victory over St. Mary’s was the Catamounts’ 14th straight over NEC teams. Senior guard Maurice Joseph added 15 points, including 12 from behind the arc.

Check out Blakely’s current stat line on the year: 18.6 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 3.9 APG, 3.0 SPG, and 2.3 BPG. He is first in the America East in points steals, blocks, second in rebounds, and fourth in assists per game. No player in the history of the America East has finished in the top ten for every category let alone the top five. It was known coming into the season that he is one of the most versatile players in history of the league and it looks like he is putting it all together to statistically put together the best all around season in the history of the America East.  Blakely broke the 1500-point barrier last week and is currently 29th with 1,547 points. He also is 14th with 858 rebounds and is among the top ten with 222 blocks.  There are only seven players in history of the league who’ve hit the same plateaus in points and rebounds that Blakely has. When he is done this season, he may be one of three with 1700 points and 1000 rebounds.

Maine managed to record three victories in a row including a huge victory at BC. The Black Bears rallied from eight down with six minutes left. Sean McNally made the deciding free throws with just over a minute left to give Maine a 52-51 advantage that secure the win. McNally played a great all-around game with 15 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks. Gerald McLemore chipped in with 14 points. Maine’s 52-51 victory over BC is the America East’s third victory this year over a BCS-conference school. Previously, BU beat Indiana and Vermont won at Rutgers. It was the first victory over an ACC school for an America East team since Vermont downed the Eagles 77-63, on November 14, 2006.

After losing back to back games against Sacred Heart and Saint Peter’s, Stony Brook won a couple of games to push their record to 9-5. There was a victory over Holy Cross on New Year’s Eve at home followed by a win in the conference opener against preseason favorite Boston University. Against BU sophomore Bryan Dougher shot 8-10 from three-point range. He was the first player to score 30+ points for Stony Brook in almost two full years and the eight treys tied the school record. Dougher is shooting 17-24 in the past three games. Tommy Brenton added 15 points and 11 rebounds against BU. It was his third double-double of the season.

New Hampshire beat Colgate, 63-55, before heading west and dropping the game against Santa Clara, 71-68. Tyrone Conley did all he could in California, scoring a career-high 28 points for UNH. The Wildcats took a 68-67 lead with 14 seconds left on a jumper from Chandler Rhoads, but Ray Cowels hit two free throws for Santa Clara to give them the lead back. Cowels followed it up with two more to finish off the game. To start off the conference slate they face Boston University at home where they have won eight straight dating back to last year.

Albany managed to snap a four-game losing streak with a 21-point victory over Yale. Albany turned a six-point lead at half into a blowout in the second period. Tim Ambrose led the way with 22 points and Billy Allen finished with 21 on 8-9 shooting including 5-6 from three-point range. The game against North Carolina was the second straight year they have faced the defending champions. Even in losing Albany can find bright spots though. The Great Danes were down by 38 with less than eight minutes to go and managed to cut it to a final deficit of 17. It was the fourth-highest ranked opponent Albany has faced. Billy Allen’s (at the time) career-high 16 points seemed to have set the stage for his big game against Yale.

Surprisingly enough, Binghamton has won two out of their last four after starting out 3-8, with only two wins against Division I opponents. In the Bearcats’ last game they took down A-10 foe LaSalle. The game included a big comeback by the Bearcats in the second half; they were down ten going into halftime. Greer Wright finished with 20 points and nine rebounds.

Hartford is currently in the midst of a nine-game losing streak. The last two losses were to undefeated #3 Kentucky and St. Francis of Pennsylvania. The Hawks were destroyed 104-61 at Kentucky. The biggest loss of the game though was point guard Andres Torres who tore the PCL in his right knee. Torres is not expected to return for 4 to 6 weeks. Against St. Francis, Joe Zeglinski’s 17 points were not enough for Hartford. The Hawks shot 6-26 from three-point range compared to the Red Flash, who shot 6-12.

After it seemed Boston University might be turning the corner before Christmas with three straight wins, they dropped their first two after Christmas. They lost by 14 to a good Dayton squad. The loss that hurt, though, was the league opener to Stony Brook. In the past 30 years the America East champion has only lost it’s opener twice, so BU is already starting from behind. The Terriers had no answer for Stony Brook’s deep range. They allowed the Seawolves to shoot 12-20 from three-point land. Sophomore Jake O’Brien led the way with a career-high 27 points in the losing effort.

UMBC finally did get their first victory before Christmas over American, but have since continued their losing ways with four straight losses. The closest they got to a victory since the holiday was against Central Connecticut State. UMBC took CCSU to double overtime before losing, 89-86. Chris De La Rosa had 25 points in the loss.

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