State Your Case: Wichita State, Monmouth, Valparaiso, Saint Mary’s

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 9th, 2016

It’s an all-too-familiar story: Several of college basketball’s most promising mid-majors – potential bracket-busters that made mincemeat of their conferences during the regular season – bulldoze their way into March, only to see their dreams of an NCAA Tournament appearance crushed during Championship Week. Nice to know ya; enjoy the NIT; better luck next year. In fact, of the 11 conference tournaments completed so far in 2016, only one top seed (Chattanooga) has managed to clinch its league’s automatic bid. Luckily, for a few of the unfortunate champions, this season may offer new hope. An exceptionally weak bubble, combined with some strong Other 26 resumes, has enabled several teams from non-power conferences to remain in the at-large conversation. In the spirit of election season, let’s allow these candidates to state their cases leading up to Selection Sunday.

Will Ron Baker and the Shockers get another shot on Selection Sunday? (

Will Ron Baker and the Shockers get another shot on Selection Sunday? (

Wichita State

  • The At-Large Argument. Advanced metrics love the Shockers more than any other team on the bubble, and it’s not close. KenPom currently ranks Wichita State #11 in the country – ahead of Miami (FL), Arizona and Xavier, among others – thanks in large part to its second-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency. Sagarin is not quite as high on Gregg Marshall’s group, but he still ranks the Shockers among the top 25. For the sake of comparison, fellow bubble comrades Syracuse and Ohio State do not fall within the top 40 of either ranking. On top of that, the Shockers are a classic example of a team the NCAA Selection Committee might – and perhaps should – judge differently now that they are at full strength. Three of Wichita State’s eight losses came without All-American Fred VanVleet, who missed four games in late November with an ankle injury. In two of those losses, the Missouri Valley champs didn’t have starting center Anton Grady either, who suffered a nearly career-ending injury against Alabama – a game they lost by just four points. There were other injuries, too. Now healthy, Wichita State seems to be a genuinely better basketball team. Oh, and did we mention that non-conference victory over Utah?

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Gonzaga And Saint Mary’s: Excitement and Disappointment

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 9th, 2016

In one way, it was the most predictable thing ever: Gonzaga appeared in its 19th consecutive West Coast Conference Tournament championship game and came away with a win to seal its 18th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But in another way, it was very different. For the first time since 2007, the Bulldogs’ flimsy resume meant that they absolutely needed to win the league’s automatic bid in order to ensure a trip back to the Big Dance (they ended up as a #11 seed that year and would have probably dropped to the NIT had they lost).

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

Domantas Sabonis Has The Zags Swinging Into Their 18th-Straight NCAA Tournament (Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

The 2007 team went on to get run out of the NCAA Tournament against Indiana. But in a season without a bevy of elite teams, this year’s squad has great potential as a nightmare matchup for a higher seed. The veteran Zags frontcourt combination of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis is as talented a duo inside as any other in the country, while backcourt players Eric McClellan and Josh Perkins are playing the best basketball of their careers. The Bulldogs aren’t a deep team but they’re strong offensively, well-coached, and have significant postseason experience.

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Lock Your Doors: Potential Bid Thieves

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 4th, 2016

No two words strike fear into the hearts of college basketball’s bubble-dwelling teams like “bid thieves.” The aptly named conference tournament crashers have a ripple effect on the rest of the landscape, impacting teams from leagues far beyond their own. When a team with no legitimate at-large aspirations wills their way into the field, another program’s season is suddenly viewed through a dramatically sadder lens (such is life in the NIT). A bid thief, like any good bandit, is sneaky and unsuspecting. If we all knew who they were at the outset of the conference tournaments, they wouldn’t be very effective thieves. Still, there are signs and symbols to look for. First and foremost, the pool of suspects all hail from a conference that has a team that owns a resume strong enough to merit an at-large bid. That means the potential bid thief population comprises second tier mid-major clubs and the also-rans of power conferences. From that group, at least one or two teams will almost definitely rise and dash the hopes of those on the bubble. Let’s take a closer look to see if we can spot some a caper before they become one.

Northern Iowa is peaking at just the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa is peaking at the right time. (Getty)

Northern Iowa

The Panthers are the perfect place to start, as they boast a textbook bid thief background. UNI has beaten North Carolina, Stephen F. Austin, Iowa State, and Wichita State. Sounds like the beginning of an at-large case? Not exactly. Ben Jacobson’s club also had a stretch this season where they lost 10 of 15, including duds against Missouri State (KenPom #241) and Loyola (KenPom #185). They’ve been utterly inconsistent throughout the season, despite the aforementioned flashes of impressiveness. If the team that’s 4-1 against the KenPom top 50 shows up to Arch Madness, the Panthers are absolutely a threat to knock off Wichita State and steal the Missouri Valley Conference’s automatic bid. UNI has won eight of its last nine (which includes a victory in Wichita), so everything could be breaking right for this thief to emerge in St. Louis.


If Monmouth fails to win the MAAC tournament, the Hawks would find themselves squarely on the bubble, even with that tidy list of non-conference wins (most notably UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, and Georgetown). The MAAC tournament will be far from a cakewalk for Monmouth, with second seeded Iona looming as its toughest test. The Gaels and Hawks split the season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. Monmouth came out on top in a wild, 200+ total point, trash-talking, slap-fight-inspiring battle in mid-January, while Iona returned the favor by beating Monmouth by 16 in a less remarkable affair. If the basketball gods are good to us, we’ll see these two square off again in Albany. Both play at a breakneck pace (each are in the top 30 nationally in possessions per game), as Iona is able to run with Monmouth in a way most teams can’t. They also may have the best player you don’t know about. Iona senior AJ English is averaging 22 points, five rebounds, and six assists per game and has multiple 40+ point games this season. An English-dominated conference tournament could mean a two-bid MAAC – a scary proposition for bubble teams everywhere else.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Best in the West: The 20 Best Teams West Of The Rockies

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on January 26th, 2016

Here’s something we occasionally do: group all of the teams west of the Rockies (you know, the only part of the country, save Austin, New Orleans, Memphis and maybe New York City worth a damn) together, mix them up and see what order they shake out in. This means we’ve got all of the teams in the Pac-12, Mountain West, WCC and Big West Conferences, plus some of the schools in the WAC and Big Sky. And normally, instead of just ranking teams the traditional way, we divide them up into tiers. The idea is that there may be two great teams that have serious Final Four dreams and then a significant fall off when talking about team number three. This year in the West? Not so much. Apropos of the rest of the nation, there are no elite teams. And on any given Saturday (or Thursday, or Wednesday), there’s a good chance whoever checks in a half-page down this list can play with the first team we mention. But still, here’s a best effort at placing the best in the West into tiers.

The Best of the Best: Legitmate Top 25 teams

  • Oregon (#1 overall, Pac-12 #1) – Since back in the middle of the summer, I’ve had the Ducks at the top of the Pac-12. With Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis added to the mix, the Ducks have long had the prospect of being, a deep, veteran, long, balanced squad. Some of those strengths (depth and experience, mainly) have been diminished with the season that wasn’t for Ennis (out for season with broken foot), but Dana Altman’s presence at the helm of a talented group should mean that this team’s best days are ahead of it. With the shot-blocking combination of Jordan Bell and Chris Boucher along the backline and the perimeter defenders like Casey Benson, Dwayne Benjamin and Tyler Dorsey, this team still has a ways to go before it reaches it’s defensive potential, as it is just 69th in the nation in defensive efficiency. The defense has to improve, but if it does, the Ducks’ offense is diverse and explosive enough to drag them a long ways into March.
Hey, Did You Know That Bell Boucher Is A Type Of Banjo? And A Great Shotblocking Combo?

Bell-Boucher: Both A Banjo And A Great Shot-blocking Combo!

  • Arizona (#2 overall, Pac-12 #2) – A one-point loss at California qualifies as a good result in a West that mimics the national landscape by not having any one dominant team. Every one of the Wildcats’ losses has been a tightly fought contest, with a four-point neutral-court loss against Providence to join three conference road losses that came by an average of two points (and four total overtimes). In short, Arizona is, on January 23rd, six possessions away from a perfect 20-0 record, despite the absence of senior Kaleb Tarczewski for eight games, freshman Allonzo Trier for the last four games and junior Elliott Pitts for the last 13 games. While this is by no mean a vintage Arizona team, Sean Miller is the best coach in the West and you can count on him getting the absolute most out of a flawed roster.

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Other 26 Previews: West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on November 11th, 2015

Michael Vernetti is the Rush the Court’s correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

2015-16 Projected Order of Finish

Same As It Ever Was in 2015 as Gonzaga Won Another WCC Trophy

Same As It Ever Was in 2015 as Gonzaga Won Another WCC Trophy

  1. Gonzaga (35-3, 17-1 in the WCC)
  2. BYU (25-10, 13-5)
  3. Saint Mary’s (21-10, 13-5)
  4. Pepperdine (18-14, 10-8)
  5. San Diego (15-16, 8-10)
  6. Santa Clara (14-18, 7-11)
  7. San Francisco (14-18, 7-11)
  8. Pacific (12-19, 4-14)
  9. Portland (17-16, 7-11)
  10. LMU (8-23, 4-14)

Player of the Year

  • Kyle Wiltjer, 6’10” senior forward, Gonzaga

Rookie of the Year

  • Anthony Townes, 6’6″ freshman forward, Pacific

All-Conference First Team

  • Kyle Collinsworth, G, BYU, 6’6″, 210
  • Jared Brownridge, G, Santa Clara, 6’2″, 190
  • Josh Perkins, G, Gonzaga, 6’3″, 185
  • Stacy Davis, F, Pepperdine, 6’6″, 235
  • Kyle Wiltjer, F, Gonzaga, 6’10”, 240

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Conference Tourney Primers: West Coast

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 6th, 2015

We’re in the midst of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the continuing action by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

West Coast Tournament

Dates: March 6-7, 9-10

Site: Orleans Arena (Las Vegas, NV)

wccWhat to expect: Gonzaga looked well on its way to in-conference perfection and possibly a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before BYU spoiled things last Saturday. That should only make the Bulldogs angry this weekend in Las Vegas. Expect the league champs to reach their 18th-straight West Coast Conference title game – where they will probably meet the Cougars for a third time – and make a statement heading into Selection Sunday. As for that BYU team… with numerous outlets projecting it among the ‘last four in’ and ‘last four out’, the Cougars can ill afford to stumble prior to the championship game. Their postseason hopes could come down to a semifinal tilt with Saint Mary’s on Monday – not an easy task, considering the teams’ regular season split.

Favorite: Gonzaga. The Zags went 29-2 during the regular season, rank among the top 10 nationally by most polls and metrics, and largely breezed through their WCC schedule. On a neutral floor, this is a no-brainer.

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How Can Saint Mary’s Beat Gonzaga?

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 22nd, 2015

According to Ken Pomeroy’s latest prognostications, Gonzaga is better than a 90 percent favorite in 10 of its 12 remaining games. The two games in which that is not the case come in late February when the Bulldogs travel to Saint Mary’s (February 21) and when they host BYU in the final game of the regular season (February 28). Tonight, Saint Mary’s gets its first crack at the Zags and, despite being a 15-point Vegas underdog and the Gaels having just an eight percent chance of winning this game, this is a match-up between teams that are a combined 14-0 in West Coast Conference play. Furthermore, the Gaels have been the only team in recent history to seriously and regularly challenge the Bulldogs’ spot atop the conference. Still, the Bulldogs have won all six games in this series in the past two seasons, and in several cases, decisively. So, the question becomes: What can Saint Mary’s do to beat Gonzaga?

Brad Waldow Will Need To Shine Against The Big Gonzaga Front Line (Getty Images)

Brad Waldow Will Need To Shine Against The Big Gonzaga Front Line (Getty Images)

As those Pomeroy odds indicate, the Gaels’ actual chances in tonight’s game are not strong. We could point out several minor data points – like the fact that the Zags won at Pepperdine by only two points while the Gaels won by nine there; or those unblemished conference records – to convince ourselves that this game of WCC titans is bound to be a battle. But the fact is that there isn’t a lot on St. Mary’s resume this season to suggest that it’s got the horses to win in Spokane tonight. The Gaels beat BYU on Saturday night in what easily represents their best win of the season, with wins over Pepperdine, UC Irvine and a fading Creighton team really the only other things of substance (note: “substance” used with great looseness here). But more than anything else, the Gaels have winning experience going for them. Of their seven players who factor most significantly into their rotation, they’ve got five seniors – four of those who have spent time at other schools before landing in Moraga. All of these guys have played plenty of road games against elite teams and rivals many times before, so when they roll into The Kennel tonight, they won’t be scared.

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On This Season’s Gonzaga Dilemma

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 9th, 2015

Two years ago, the debate raged. Did Gonzaga, the #1 team in both polls on Selection Sunday, really deserve a #1 seed? It was a question rarely faced by teams towering over the polls at such a late juncture, but the Zags’ 31-2 record didn’t impress everyone. Critics brought up the weak WCC. They pointed out an unflattering RPI ranking of #8. More anecdotally, they looked up and down the Gonzaga roster and asked — other than Kelly Olynyk — where all the pros were. The Zags claim to a #1 seed was as energized a debate as any on Selection Sunday in March 2013.

Mark Few, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Are Steering Gonzaga Towards Yet Another Dominant Regular Season Finish. Will The Zag's Disappointing 2013 NCAA Tournament Showing Impact This Team's Spot Within The Bracket?

Mark Few, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Are Steering Gonzaga Towards Yet Another Dominant Regular Season Finish. Will The Zags’ Disappointing 2013 NCAA Tournament Showing Impact This Team’s Placement Within The Bracket?

That story’s ending shouldn’t have escaped memory yet (Cliff Notes: #1 seed granted, but Sweet Sixteen appearance sold separately) and it may have more damage to deliver the Bulldogs. This season boasts an equally dominant Gonzaga outfit and a similarly helpless WCC, which puts Mark Few’s team on a crash course for a familiar Selection Sunday predicament. After easily knocking off San Francisco on Thursday night, the 15-1 Bulldogs look as poised as ever to rip through a soft WCC and reach Selection Sunday with just one loss, an overtime defeat at Arizona (who is kind of good!). Early results indicate competition for the four #1 seeds is likely to be even fiercer this season than it was two years ago, but this Gonzaga group also looks to be stronger as well. Dominoes in the race for a #1 seed will be falling from now until March — in both Spokane and elsewhere — but round two of the great Gonzaga debate is coming. There’s no reason not to begin considering the question now: Will the kings of the WCC deserve to be on the bracket’s top line?

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Who Won The Week? Texas, Amere May and Gary Payton II …

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker) on December 19th, 2014

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Tacoma-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.


You know, I think the Longhorns have recovered from losing at Kentucky two weeks ago. And that’s a credit to their fantastic defense, which ranks third nationally in adjusted efficiency (thanks, KenPom!). Texas came out Saturday and held a not-entirely-terrible Texas State team to 27 points (and a cool 0.44 points per possession) in a 59-27 win, then followed that up with a comparatively pedestrian 103-61 win over Lipscomb in which the Bisons only scored 0.81 points per possession. Yes, that is a “comparatively pedestrian” 42-point win. That’s how good Texas’ defense is. Here’s some stats to back that up: The Longhorns are first in the nation in effective field goal shooting against, first in opponents’ two-point field goal percentage (32.7 percent!) and second in block rate, swatting nearly one in five two-point attempts. The defense is the third most efficient in the country despite being in the bottom five nationally in forcing turnovers. Oh, and by the way, the Longhorns are now 9-1, including 6-1 without injured starting point guard Isaiah Taylor.

Rick Barnes is Carrying the Big 12 Recruiting Flag This Week (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

It’s been business as usual for Rick Barnes and Texas. (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

(Related winners: People who really like defense. Related losers: Texas State; Lipscomb, but mostly for making “Bison” plural by adding an “S.”)

LOSER: Connecticut

Not to be an alarmist or anything, but the defending national champions are running out of time to get some good wins. Now 4-4, Kevin Ollie’s Huskies had an opportunity against a stacked Duke team Thursday night on a neutral court and came away with a 66-56 loss. But with the American looking like it will have a down year in the wake of Louisville’s departure, the only chances for statement wins are at Florida and a pair of conference match-ups with Cincinnati. (I reserve the right to judge SMU until Markus Kennedy is playing for them, but the Mustangs have taken three non-nconference losses already. Not promising.) And the best UConn non-conference win thus far, against Dayton, will lose a lot of shine after the Flyers dismissed their two tallest players after a campus incident. Now what I find alarming is that UConn gave up more than a point per possession to lowly Coppin State on Sunday, owner of a bottom-10 offensive efficiency, proving that the Huskies took at least one night off. You can’t afford to do that when you need to stack up a gaudy record in a conference full of minnows. And you certainly can’t afford to do that when you can’t score above a point per possession yourselves, which has happened in each of the Huskies’ four losses.

(Related winners: Duke, which managed to overcome a nearly 50 percent turnover rate in the first half to win somewhat comfortably. Related losers: UConn stud guard Ryan Boatright, who has to be wondering what he did to deserve his woeful offensive supporting cast; the American, which needs all the good teams – and NCAA Tournament teams – it can get.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on December 16th, 2014

Michael Vernetti is the Rush the Court’s correspondent for the West Coast Conference.

Looking Back

Maybe finals were unusually hard this year, causing a build-up of aggression within WCC members. Maybe the conference is ready to establish itself alongside the Mountain West as one of the best outside the Power Five. Whatever the motivation, conference schools celebrated their first post-finals games with a handful of memorable efforts on Saturday.

Kyle Wiltjer has fit right in with a talented Gonzaga squad. (AP)

Kyle Wiltjer has fit right in with a talented Gonzaga squad. (AP)

  • Gonzaga toyed with UCLA as if the Bruins were a middling WCC opponent, leading wire-to-wire in an 87-74 romp at Pauley Pavilion.
  • Saint Mary’s broke Creighton’s 24-game home winning streak with a 71-67 overtime win in Omaha.
  • BYU went 2-0 on the road by topping Weber State 76-60 in Ogden.
  • Santa Clara notched its fourth straight win by knocking off Washington State 76-67 – its first home win against a Pac-12 school in 10 years.
  • San Diego trounced New Orleans 85-60 to remain undefeated at home.
  • Pepperdine almost made it an epic fail for the Pac-12 against the WCC, leading Arizona State 43-42 with less than 12 minutes left before ultimately succumbing, 81-74.
  • Only rebuilding Loyola Marymount went down Saturday, losing 71-69 to Northern Arizona.

It has been a mostly satisfying non-conference performance so far for the WCC, with only one team, Loyola Marymount, posting a losing record through December 13.

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