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: 08.14.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 14th, 2013

morning5

  1. There’s perhaps nothing more frustrating (yet printable) than good ideas gone bad. Several years ago the Big 12 and Pac-10 tried to capitalize on the popularity of the ACC/Big East Challenge by staging its own “Hardwood Series” event. The only problem was that it started sometime in November and ended around Christmas. It was no more a real “event” than Congress is the voice of the people these days. That same year, the Big East and SEC got into the act, staging a somewhat better neutral-site series that at least took advantage of proximity in time (the games were usually on back-to-back days, but didn’t include enough teams). Still, it was tough to jazz big state school SEC fans up about playing small (mostly) Catholic schools like Villanova and St. John’s — the match-ups just didn’t make for a good fit. The SEC and Big 12, however, represent like upon like. Both leagues are full of mostly rural states that care a lot about college athletics, even if football will always trump basketball in most of those places. An SEC/Big 12 Challenge, at least on paper, had real promise. Alas. The 2013 schedule was released yesterday, and the powers-that-be have fallen into the same trap that the Pac-10 and Big 12 engineered back in 2007 — the games begin on November 14 (Texas Tech @ Alabama) and end December 21 (Oklahoma @ Texas A&M), some 37 days apart. Furthermore, the two best games — Kentucky at Baylor on December 6 and Kansas at Florida on December 10 — were already scheduled regardless of this event. Memo to SEC and Big 12 bigwigs — if you want people to really care, get it right next year.
  2. From a possible good idea gone bad to a possible bad idea gone good, Andy Glockner of SI.com used his Twitter cachet to put together a pretty phenomenal list of “rappers taking stage names that include small D-I basketball programs” last night. The derivation of the list came from a social media-fueled hubbub surrounding a rapper named Kendrick Lamar, who apparently decided to bring back some of the gangsta vibe of one-upmanship prevalent to the genre two decades ago, long before Jay-Z, Kanye and Dre completely monetized the industry. Our two favorites from the list were, without question, Big Daddy Duquesne and A Tribe Called Quinnipiac, although Florida Gulf Coastface Killah is damn good too. What, no Wichi2pac Shakurs? No Beastie Boise? Dayton La Soul? OK, we’ll stop now, but hey, it’s August.
  3. There was actually one piece of substantive news yesterday in the college hoops universe, and if this the entirety of this saga is any indication, absolutely no one will notice. The NCAA ruled on Tuesday that San Diego will not face any additional sanctions related to the Brandon Johnson game-fixing charges, and there’s no reason why it should have. The school had already admitted a secondary violation based on his efforts to point-shave and later solicit teammates to help him during the 2009-10 season, and there was no evidence that any additional staff members or other athletes had any knowledge of the criminal activity. Johnson is currently serving a six-month sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty to a solicitation charge, while his former assistant coach TJ Brown is serving out a one-year sentence for his part in the scheme. Meanwhile, similar crimes are without a doubt being concocted and/or facilitated throughout the game, but all you’ll hear from the media and talking heads is a whole lot of crickets. It’s a very strange phenomenon.
  4. If you have unlimited funds lying around in an offshore account somewhere, you might want to take a look at this offering. Former Ohio State Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas is auctioning off all of his prized memorabilia, including his 1960 Olympic gold medal (considered one of the best basketball teams ever assembled), his 1960 OSU national championship ring, his 1973 New York Knicks championship ring, and his 1979 HOF induction ring. According to Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger, Lucas’ haul at the minimum auction prices along would total over $500,000 — and there’s no doubt that a collection of such rare pieces will fetch quite a bit more than that. If you do have money to burn, the items are located here, and we have to admit that the 1971 SF Warriors practice jersey for only $500 looks rather enticing.
  5. Let’s finish with some recruiting news, or quasi-news, as it were. The consensus top player in the 2014 class, Jahlil Okafor, and a top five player in his own right, Tyus Jones, have talked extensively about playing together in college. Many of the recruiting pundits seem to believe their package deal is a strong likelihood. On Tuesday, Jeff Borzello reported that Jones released his list of official visits, which included three crossover visits with Okafor at Baylor, Kansas and Duke, but visits at different times at Kentucky. Is there meaningfulness behind the shared visits — does it mean that Scott Drew, Bill Self and Coach K are the finalists for the duo’s services? Or is it all simply much ado about nothing, something to pass the time as we slowly slide toward fall. We’ll find out soon enough.
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Morning Five: 05.22.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 22nd, 2013

morning5

  1. Perhaps feeling green with envy that Louisville’s Rick Pitino (championship, tattoo, Derby) and Kentucky’s John Calipari (recruiting, NCAA) were receiving all the offseason college basketball attention, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski got himself back into the conversation this week with his comment to SI.com‘s Pete Thamel that he is considering a return to coach USA Basketball’s men’s national team again in 2014 (Worlds) and 2016 (Olympics). We’re kidding about the jealousy bit — sorta — but coaches gotta coach, and everyone has trouble stepping away from doing the thing they love most. Mike DeCourcy writes that the numerous Duke haters who simply cannot endure anything associated with the four-time national championship head coach miss the point — Coach K (and certainly Jerry Colangelo) made the concept of preparing and competing for Team USA cool again. Prior to their involvement, players showed up and expected to win simply because, well, because they thought they could. Miserable performances in the 2002 Worlds (sixth) and 2004 Olympics (third) led to the system we now have in place, and for that Krzyzewski should absolutely be lauded and celebrated by every American who cares about USA basketball.
  2. It certainly doesn’t have the ring or cachet of its predecessor at the Garden, but the inaugural AAC Tournament is beginning to look a lot like the old Conference USA Tournament (and the old Great Midwest Tournament; and the old Metro Tournament) in that it may be headed to Memphis. Don’t get us wrong, the city of Memphis has a tremendous local fan base that loves college basketball and will fill the FedEx Forum with their beloved Tigers now in the new league. But can we liven this thing up a little bit in its first go-round — how about slotting in the top four seeds into the conference semifinals and leaving it at that? A semifinal round of Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis and Connecticut next March wouldn’t be awful, and we’ll even allow you to throw in Temple in place of Cincy if the Bearcats falter. Deal?
  3. We’re a big believer in second chances, especially when someone who has done wrong can show that they’ve learned from their previous mistakes. Still, we believe there should be limitations to those reprisals, and we’re having a little trouble swallowing the Zay Jackson story at Murray State. You remember Jackson — he was the Racer guard who rather infamously ran over a man with his car in a Walmart parking lot last September — according to Andy Katz’s report earlier this week, after serving 49 days in jail for hit-and-run, MSU’s athletic department has decided to allow him back on the team. The school apparently (?) did not have a protocol to deal with situations like these, but how about a protocol of redemption and common sense? Again, we support the concept of a second chance. The young man served his time and by all indications hasn’t caused any problems since his release. But wouldn’t this be a situation where both parties would be better served by shaking hands with each other and walking away? Wouldn’t Jackson want to have a fresh start at another school? Does Steve Prohm really want to endure the endless mocking and jeering his team will suffer as a result of this decision? At a minimum, how about ensuring that Jackson can keep his nose clean for an entire year (just school and practice) before allowing him the privilege of playing college basketball again? Poor form here, we’re afraid.
  4. Depending on whom you ask, the voluminous and growing number of transfers is destroying the integrity of the collegiate game or finally shifting the balance of power back to the producers of all that money flowing to the schools — the players. But the coaches still have several dirty tricks up their sleeve when needed, and the power to “block” transfers from alighting to certain schools is one of the more nefarious ones. Sometimes the notion derives from a misguided but legitimate attempt to protect “trade secrets,” but more often it just seems that the coaches are vindictively limiting the players simply because they can. Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings’ blockage of freshman Sheldon Jeter from transferring closer to his hometown school of Pittsburgh has the look and feel of exactly that. Pitt and Vandy are not in the same league, nor are they scheduled to play next season; in fact, they haven’t played in over two decades. So what’s the deal here? Why on earth would Vanderbilt care if a mediocre freshman wanted to play closer to home for the rest of his career — what possible reason could Stallings have other than “because he can.” Remember, college athletics is about the student-athletes.
  5. Remember the San Diego/Brandon Johnson bribery incident a couple of years ago? That’s OK, nobody else does either. For something that supposedly destroys the very integrity of a sport by its very existence, it sure seems as if incidents like these are quickly reported and summarily swept right on under the rug so as to not get in the way of moving right along. As this FBI narrative reports, Johnson was convicted of point shaving during four games in the 2009-10 season, and he was ultimately outed when the criminal enterprise that had recruited him was investigated for drug trafficking. The FBI report states that “tampering with sports events strikes at the integrity of the games; this kind of betrayal is not merely disappointing—it is criminal and worthy of prosecution,” but the greater public has largely not seemed to care all that much. They still attend and watch games, fill out brackets, and enjoy all the other accessories of being a college sports fan. Maybe we’re all so ambivalent to scandal that we’ve become accustomed to it — as a sort of new normalcy. Oh hey, IRS. How’s it going?
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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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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 27th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Appreciating Assets – Solid weeks by Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, plus a rebound by Santa Clara, marked the WCC’s next-to-last week in the regular season. All three teams enjoyed a rise in prospects, although the degree of ascent differed greatly.

Gonzaga, by tearing through Santa Clara (85-42) and San Diego (81-50) while #2 Miami sleepwalked through a pasting (80-65) from lowly Wake Forest, moved into the #2 position in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls, the highest ranking ever for the Bulldogs. It is of a piece with a dazzling season that has seen, among other triumphs: a return to the top of the WCC after Saint Mary’s won the undisputed title last year; the highest number of regular-season wins in its history (27), with two conference games to go; and an undefeated conference record, only the third time in its history as a Division I team if it holds up. In addition, it is a given among most bracketologists that Gonzaga is a compelling favorite to be the #1 West seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, meaning the Zags will make an easy trip from Spokane to San Jose or Salt Lake City for the opening two rounds of the tournament.

Could the nation's #1 overall ranking be in the cards for Kevin Pangos, Kelly Olynyk and Gonzaga? (Getty)

Could the nation’s #1 overall ranking be in the cards for Kevin Pangos, Kelly Olynyk and Gonzaga? (Getty)

Saint Mary’s may have removed itself from the shadow of the NCAA Bubble Watch by defeating BYU (74-67) and Creighton (74-66) at home last week, giving the Gaels a much-needed quality win over the previously high-ranked Creighton Bluejays and moving them into #23 in the Coaches poll. Of course, with the Gaels this year nothing comes easily, so the favorable comments on their chances are couched in must-dos: win the remaining two games on the WCC schedule (Pepperdine on the road and Santa Clara at home), and get to the finals of the WCC Tournament March 6-11 in Las Vegas. In a comment on the Darwinian nature of the competition for at-large berths in the NCAA Tourney, Creighton may have fallen from lock status to bubble team itself with the loss to Saint Mary’s.

Santa Clara, which has had more ups and downs than perhaps any 20-game winner in the country, could have taken an eight-count against Portland last Saturday after being eviscerated by Gonzaga two nights earlier. The 45-point loss to the Zags was its worst since 1998, but the Broncos rebounded for a 75-63 win over Portland and a sweep of that series to go with three other sweeps – against Pepperdine, San Francisco and San Diego. The latter sweep is important because the Broncos have a two-game lead over the Toreros with two games to go in a race for fourth place and a bye in the first round of the WCC Tournament. Third place is not out of the Broncos’ reach, as they enter the last week just one game behind BYU.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (14-0, 27-2): The Zags are not just defeating conference foes these days, they are annihilating them. That is not good news for upcoming opponents BYU, in Provo on Feb. 28, and Portland, in Spokane on March 2. BYU might be playing for its last shot at an at-large NCAA berth, but even a gritty effort against Saint Mary’s came up short and the Cougars may not have enough left in the tank to stall an onrushing Gonzaga. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 19th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Then There Was One: Gonzaga romped past its most challenging week in WCC play, throttling Saint Mary’s, 77-60, and holding off San Francisco, 71-61, and left little drama for the remainder of the conference season. The Zags have a moderately difficult game in Provo on February 28 against BYU, following what should be two routine wins at home against Santa Clara and San Diego, and one could make a case that BYU will be desperate for a season-saving win. Even if BYU pulls off the upset, however, it will be too late to do the Zags any harm, either to their conference standing or their national reputation. The win over Saint Mary’s gave them an effective two-game lead (the Zags have a final game on March 2 against barely-competitive Portland to bring their conference record in line with Saint Mary’s), and it would take a monumental collapse to overcome that. Not going to happen.

Kelly Olynyk was his usual dominant self against the Gaels (USA Today)

Kelly Olynyk was his usual dominant self against the Gaels. (USA Today)

Although it ended in anti-climax with the Zags outscoring the Gaels 21-8 over the last six minutes after Saint Mary’s pulled to within four at 56-52 on a Matthew Dellavedova three-pointer, the Saint Mary’s-Gonzaga contest was not without its drama. For one thing the setting was college basketball tension at its best, with a packed and fevered McKeon Pavilion urging on the Gaels. As Saint Mary’s fought back from an early deficit behind Dellavedova’s 19 first-half points, the building seemed about to explode when Jordan Guisti’s three-pointer gave Saint Mary’s its first lead, 33-30, with less than two seconds left in the half. It would have made an interesting scientific experiment: How much noise can a crowd of some 3,500 crammed into a smallish gymnasium create? There was no personal conversation possible, just a wall of ear-thumping sound reverberating in the building.

The Gaels would take a one-point lead into the break after two Kevin Pangos free throws, but in the end it was too much Kelly Olynyk, whose 17 points and seven rebounds do not adequately describe his dominance. Olynyk had his hands on seemingly every rebound, batted ball and misdirected pass in the game, keeping offensive sets alive, disrupting passing lanes and scoring when necessary. He was, literally, larger than life in Moraga and that meant death for the Gaels and their chances of defending their WCC championship of a year ago.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (12-0, 25-2): The Zags will be forgiven if they were watching for the two national polls on Monday, as they had a chance to move up in both the AP and USA Today/Coaches Polls. They did move up on AP, from five to three, but held at three in the USA Today poll. All of college basketball was watching the Saint Mary’s game to judge the Zags in a difficult situation, and their performance should have removed all doubts.  Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 14th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Walk-on Wonders – There are many undiscovered threads in any college basketball season, but one of the most significant hidden stories in this year’s WCC race is the role that walk-ons have played in the battle between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga for conference supremacy. By now everyone (or at least everyone who has viewed an ESPN telecast) knows the story of Gonzaga’s hard-nosed redshirt senior forward, Mike Hart. A walk-on through friendship with some of Gonzaga’s scholarship players, Hart eventually worked his way into a starting position and, for a brief time, a scholarship of his own (he gave it up this year to facilitate a bumper crop of recruits). He doesn’t score much in his 16 or so minutes per game – he’s made 14 of 23 shots this year – but he affects the game through dogged work on defense and the boards.

Jordan Giusti has proved that hard work and dedication goes pay off (Saint Mary's athletics)

Jordan Giusti has proved that hard work and dedication goes pay off (Saint Mary’s athletics)

Hart has an analogue in Saint Mary’s redshirt junior forward Beau Levesque. Lightly recruited after a stellar career at East Bay powerhouse De La Salle High School, Levesque was a walk-on with an agenda – to become an integral part of Randy Bennett’s program. He made a splash in the Gaels’ Sweet Sixteen run in 2010, playing in all three NCAA tournament games, then sweated out his sophomore year with surgeries on both hips. As a redshirt sophomore last year he showed more promise in nearly 10 minutes per game, but he has blossomed this season into an outright star and potential all-WCC performer, averaging 11.0 PPG and 4.5 RPG in a little more than 20 minutes per game. He has had outbursts of 24 points on 6-of-7 three-point shooting against Santa Clara and 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting against San Diego.

For pure rags-to-riches drama, however, it doesn’t get any better than the story of Saint Mary’s other premier walk-on, redshirt freshman guard Jordan Giusti. Giusti was another East Bay standout (San Ramon Valley High School, alma mater of the Gaels’ Omar Samhan) who fell under everyone’s scouting radar except Bennett’s, and the Saint Mary’s coach thought enough of Giusti to ask him to redshirt his freshman year – unusual for a walk-on. He made a big splash in the Gaels’ December 31 home game against Harvard, showing down Harvard’s excellent freshman guard Siyani Chambers, and eventually forcing a turnover against Chambers that played a key part in the Gaels’ 70-69 victory. He has since become an indispensable part of the Gaels’ attack, giving Bennett a defensive stopper and allowing the coach to rest the other Gael guards, including do-everything whiz Matthew Dellavedova. With Giusti contributing in every game, Bennett has a more rested and versatile guard tandem than in any time in the past several years as the conference race goes down to the wire.

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The Other 26: It’s Nate Wolters’ World, and We’re Just Living In It

Posted by IRenko on February 9th, 2013

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

It wasn’t that long ago when we were musing in this space about whether an early December ankle injury was hindering Nate Wolters’ performance. After missing two games, Wolters registered three straight games with a sub-100 offensive rating (per Ken Pomeroy), decidedly mediocre performances by Wolters’ high standards. But those would be the only three games this year where Wolters fell below that mark, as he emerged from his funk with a 28-point performance in a big win over New Mexico. Since then, Wolters has been as productive as ever. But none of us could have expected what happened on Thursday night. Wolters exploded for an incredible 53-point performance.

Nate Wolters Owned the Court on Thursday Night (South Dakota State Athletics)

Nate Wolters Owned the Court on Thursday Night (South Dakota State Athletics)

Wolters shot 17-of-28 from the floor, including 9-of-14 from three-point range. He added 10 points from the free throw line. He outscored the entire opposing team, IPFW, in the second half, 38-37. He scored in every which way — step back threes, drives through the lane, catch-and-shoot threes, drives along the baseline, threes off ball screens, pull-up jumpers … you name it, he did it.

Wolters is now averaging 22.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game. He commits just 2.3 turnovers a game despite using more than 30 percent of the Jackrabbits’ possessions. He shoots over 80 percent from the free throw line and over 40 percent from the three-point line. And perhaps most important of all, he has led his team on an eight-game winning streak that has buried an uneven start to the conference season and put the Jackrabbits in a first-place tie with Western Illinois. If you’ve yet to catch the Wolters show, fret not as there are some high-profile opportunities in the coming weeks. Next Saturday, the Jackrabbits welcome Western Illinois to Brookings, and you can bet that the joint will be jumping. And a week later, Wolters will take his talents to Murray, Kentucky to square off against Isaiah Canaan and the Racers in a premier Bracketbuster matchup.

On to this week’s Top 10, our Honor Roll, and the games to watch this week …

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