The Pac-12 made it through the opening weekend of college basketball with an unblemished record (13-0), one of only two power conferences to do so. Let’s take a closer look at how it all went down through the first few days.
Upsets – None. Zip. Nada. The Pac-12 team was the favorite in each of the 13 games played this weekend, and they won each and every time. Oregon State and Arizona were the closest schools to a loss as the Beavers held off New Mexico State, 71-62, and the Wildcats pulled away late to win 82-73 against Charleston Southern.
Best Game – New Mexico State at Oregon State: This one had all the makings of an upset for the first 10 minutes of the game. The Aggies used their height advantage to dominate the glass and took advantage of a slow-to-rotate Beaver defense by nailing mid-range and three-point jumpers. But down 18-12 midway through the first half, the Beavers went on a 22-6 run to kill the Aggies’ morale. New Mexico State hung around for the duration of the contest, and even had a chance to cut the deficit to three with 30 seconds left, but Terrel de Rouen clanked a three-point attempt and the Beavers escaped.
Ahmad Starks’ 33 Points Led Oregon State To A Nine Point Win Over New Mexico State (credit: Andy Wooldridge)
Player of the Week – Dwight Powell: Stanford’s junior forward scored 27 points in 32 minutes on Friday night against San Francisco. Even more impressive is the fact that Powell didn’t have a point in the final seven minutes of Stanford’s 74-62 win at the Oracle Coliseum. However, his final bucket, a tip-in to extend the Cardinal lead to 13, was a dagger to the heart of the Dons. Powell also pulled down seven rebounds on the night.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC. You can find him on Twitter at @mvern1
Keeping It Going: Between the two, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s have monopolized the WCC in recent years – the Zags since since Gonzaga began its dominant run of WCC titles in 1999, and Saint Mary’s since winning the WCC Tournament Championship in 2010, splitting the regular-season conference title in 2011 and winning both the regular-season and tournament titles in 2012. Can these programs keep the dominance alive in 2012-13?
Delly a repeat? The WCC has seen numerous repeats as Player of the Year: Quintin Dailey and Bill Cartwright at San Francisco, Doug Christie and Dwayne Polee at Pepperdine, Steve Nash at Santa Clara. The last time was Blake Stepp of Gonzaga in the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. Can Matthew Dellavedova of Saint Mary’s become the first repeat winner since Stepp?
Chances Are These Two Guys (Randy Bennett, left, and Mark Few) Will Run Into Each Other Quite A Bit This Season
Will San Francisco re-write history? The established template for success at the mid-major level is consistency: Keeping your players around for four or five years so experience will trump the athleticism of superior teams whose players jump to the NBA. San Francisco has turned that template on its head since the end of last season, watching eight members of its 2011-12 roster head for the exits (nine if you count reserve senior guard Jay Wey). Outstanding seniors Rashad Green and Angelo Caloiaro were already out the door because of graduation, but Rex Walters could look forward to having sturdy post man Perris Blackwell and shooting guard Michael Williams back to anchor this year’s team along with starting point guard Cody Doolin. But when Blackwell and Williams caught exit fever and little-used reserves Khalil Murphy, Avery Johnson, Charles Standifer and Justin Raffington joined them, the Dons’ roster was severely depleted. Walters didn’t spend a lot of time bemoaning his fate, going on an energetic recruiting mission to fill the holes. But this year’s Dons will be an interesting experiment in how well a mid-major program can get back on track with a large-scale roster turnover. The Dons last season reached the 20-win mark for the first time in thirty years, but it will be a big surprise if they match that in 2012-13.
October is finally here! That means the squeaking of sneakers on the college basketball hardwood is right around the corner. You can sense it in the silent roar of anticipation coming from college campuses in Bloomington, Omaha, Lexington, Westwood, Memphis, Tucson, Richmond, Lawrence, Louisville and the rest — take a look at their fan message boards and blogs and feel the palpable collective sense of another season of possibility and wonder. Read the local beat writers and note that even their tried-and-true cynicism with the whole production is relatively muted. Peruse a few schedules and start figuring out where you’re headed this season. With the turning of the calendar into the last quarter of the year , it’s time we stop referring to this season as next season. For those of us who live this sport year-round, next season is now.
Kansas head coach Bill Self is widely recognized as one of the best tacticians and recruiters in the game right now, and with good reason. His Jayhawks have made the Big 12 their own personal punching bag on the way to eight straight conference titles, and the talent that Self regularly brings to Lawrence has kept the longstanding KU-to-NBA pipeline intact. Over the weekend, Kansas rewarded Self for his continuing excellence, extending the coach’s contract four more years (through the 2021-22 season) and increasing his average salary to $3.856 million per year. A number of retention and other performance incentives make the value of the entire contract just north of $53 million over the next decade. It’s phenomenal money, of course, but according to KUSports.com, Self’s new deal is still only the fourth richest in college basketball — behind larger-than-life icons John Calipari, Rick Pitino, and Mike Krzyzewski.
Speaking of Pitino, his Louisville Cardinals will be in everyone’s preseason top five this season, and one of the reasons for that is the amount of quality depth he’ll have at his disposal. That depth took a minor hit on Friday when senior Mike Marrare-injured the same left ACL that had kept him off the court for most of last season. With the increase in Louisville’s overall talent over the course of his career, Marra wasn’t expected to play a major role in the Cardinal lineup this season, but he had contributed in the past (21 MPG in 2010-11, for example) and he was someone who always brought great energy to the floor. He’ll become a graduate assistant under Pitino this season as he prepares to pursue coaching after he leaves school.
Matt Glover is another in a long line of summer transfers who hoped to receive a waiver from the NCAA so that he could play immediately after transferring from Penn State to San Francisco during the offseason. The junior college guard arrived at PSU just in time for last fall’s whirlwind surrounding Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky, suffering through a miserable year on campus playing for a different coach (Pat Chambers) than the one who had recruited him (Ed DeChellis). His mother suffered a heart attack in April, but apparently because Glover was already considering a transfer closer to her Los Angeles home at the time, the NCAA denied Glover’s request to play for USF this season. Glover’s family has dealt with a number of health issues over the years, so it’s certainly a shame that the NCAA wasn’t willing to budge on this one.
Finally, Rutgers head coach Mike Rice may have raised the bar considerably in terms of what future coaches will do for their charitable organizations. Forget the tennis shoes, telethons, and all the other fund-raising strategies — Rice is more of a doer than a talker. On Friday morning in the middle of a rainstorm in Jersey City, the 43-year old daredevil rappelled down the side of a 470-foot office building with nothing but a few ropes and cords holding him aloft. His trek downward took nine minutes, a slow time in large part because he stoped at every floor to wave at people on the inside of the building. He did this as part of the American Cancer Society’s “Over the Edge” fundraising effort, and he ended up with a fantastic recruiting yarn that he can regale to players the world over: “Your coach is crazy enough to scale tall buildings for you,” he can now truthfully say.
Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the WCC.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Three Key Storylines
Ex-champs Fight Back. Gonzaga’s streak of 11 consecutive seasons with at least a share of the WCC crown came to an end last year as Saint Mary’s won both the regular season title and the WCC Tournament. How will the Zags react as a challenger rather than defending champion? Is Saint Mary’s for real or just a pretender? This is the key storyline for the WCC heading into the 2012-13 season. Gonzaga answers with a strong returning lineup boasting conference leaders Elias Harris at strong forward and dual freshmen sensations Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. at the guard spots. Rather than miss the graduated Robert Sacre, Zag partisans insist more playing time for Sam Dower will equal more production in the post. Saint Mary’s answers with a possibly even stronger backcourt of Olympics hero Matt Dellavedova and defensive terror Stephen Holt. The Gaels will have a rebuilt front line anchored by redshirt sophomore Brad Waldow and transfer forward Matt Hodgson, and looks forward to proving last year’s title was no fluke.
These WCC Stars Will Determine the Storyline of the 2012-13 Season
Revamp or Disaster? San Francisco coach Rex Walters was consistently cool when asked about the unsettling defection of six players from his roster following last season’s disappointing season (8-8, fifth place in WCC). For the most part he knew they were leaving, Walters said, and he has replaced them with players of equal or better value. Maybe, but any time a team loses its top four scorers (Angelo Caloiaro, Perris Blackwell, Rashad Green and Michael Williams) and returns only two players with significant game experience – Cody Doolin and Cole Dickerson – it puts tremendous pressure on the newcomers. Of the many new faces on the Hilltop, former UCLA recruit De’End Parker, recently cleared to participate in the upcoming season, looks to be the Dons’ best bet for stardom.
Broncos Healthy Again. Things could not possibly have gone worse for Santa Clara last year – really, they lost all 16 conference games – so maybe karmic forces are aligned to bring the Broncos salvation. MarcTrasolini, the hard-nosed 6’9″ forward who was looked upon to provide senior leadership, instead tore his ACL in the preseason. Outstanding shooting guard Kevin Foster was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence following a Bronco home loss to Saint Mary’s, and never returned to action. With Trasolini and Foster back this season, Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating should smile more. Keating will also have improving 7-foot center Robert Garrett and slick point guard Evan Roquemore back in the fold, so the Broncos have a solid foundation for success
Wednesday night was not exactly a banner night in the Pac-12 Conference. Just to tie a bow on a dreadful season, Californialaid an egg in its opening round NCAA Tournament game, scored just 13 points in the first half against South Florida (which, really, isn’t as much of a crime as allowing USF to score 36 points in the first half – when is the last time USF scored 36 points in any half?) and never really showed up. The Bears only made a run in the final few minutes when the game was already out of reach, causing the final score (65-54) to seem a lot more respectable than it really was. For a team led by seniors Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp, two guys whose careers have been largely based on heart and toughness, to bow out with nary a fight is certainly a disappointing end to their solid Berkeley careers.
Arizona’s season also ended Wednesday night as they lost to Bucknell in the first round of the NIT by the same score. This game was far more competitive, however, until the Bison finished the game on a 7-0 run to put away the Wildcats. With a group of impressive freshmen coming in next season, Arizona hopes it will be its last NIT appearance for quite some time. The biggest question for Sean Miller to answer in the offseason, though, is the future of freshman point guard Josiah Turner. Turner is currently suspended indefinitely, and although he did take in the game on the Wildcat bench in sweats, it is possible that he is not long for the program. With Arizona’s promising recruiting class lacking a true point guard, his fate could have a lot to say about what happens in Tucson next year.
USC announced on Wednesday that sophomore forward Garrett Jacksonwill be transferring out of the program at the end of the year. Despite the fact that Jackson started the final 14 games of the season, it has been clear in his two years in Los Angeles that he doesn’t have a bright future playing for head coach Kevin O’Neill. Prior to the rash of injuries that completely sapped the Trojan roster of able bodies, Jackson was just a role player. And with a couple newly eligible senior transfers due in at forward next year, Jackson’s role figured to decline rather than increase in 2012-13.
We’ve discussed the possibility that Dana Altman would be considered for the open Nebraska coaching position, but one thing we never considered was that other Pac-12 coaches might be on the Huskers’ radar as well. As it turns out, Nebraska apparently contacted UCLA’s head coach Ben Howland in regards to the job, but found out that they were barking up the wrong tree there. With Altman and Oregon still alive in the NIT and not playing again until Sunday, it could be some time until we find out for sure whether Altman is all-in or folding early with the Ducks.
Lastly, Oregon State kept its season alive by blowing out Western Illinois in the first round of the CBI on Wednesday night, earning the Beavers their first 20-win season since 1990. For perspective, Jared Cunningham, who led the Beavs with 22 points, wasn’t even born at that time. The win gives the Pac-12 two teams in the CBI quarterfinals, as Washington State advanced on Tuesday night with a 14-point win over San Francisco. Wyoming will travel to Washington State in the next round, while Oregon State will host TCU, two games that could provide trouble for the Pac-12 teams, considering the conference’s struggles against Mountain West teams this season.
Here’s a look at each Pac-12 team’s postseason capsule, by order of each team’s tip-off. Enjoy!
Who, When, Where: vs. LSU (18-14) in Eugene, Oregon, NIT First Round, 3/13, 6:30 PM PDT, ESPN
First Up: What the Tigers lack in scoring they make up in rebounds and points in the paint. LSU averages 37 RPG and they are led by big men Justin Hamilton and Storm Warren. What makes the Tigers dangerous is their ability to adapt to a certain style. They will play at the pace you want the game at, and then beat you with your own style.
Best Case Scenario: With the way Oregon has been playing of late (Pac-12 Tournament notwithstanding), the Ducks can easily make a run in this tournament. With players like Devoe Joseph and Garrett Sim that are able to create and knock down their own shots, Oregon should be able to beat LSU in the first round. After that things get much more tough, but I can’t see the Ducks losing a “best case scenario” game until they would likely meet either Seton Hall or Arizona in the championship.
Worst Case Scenario: Even if the Ducks do not play well against the Tigers, home-court advantage should pull them through to the next round. However, they would likely have to travel to Dayton in the second round, and the Flyers pose matchup problems all over the court for Oregon. Expect an Oregon-Dayton matchup to be much like last Thursday’s Colorado-Oregon game. The Flyers stingy defense and potent offense should build a large lead early on against the Ducks, and while Oregon battles to cut the deficit to three with four minutes left, it is never able to come all the way back after a long road trip and an emotinal comeback drians all of its energy.
Devoe Joseph's offensive prowess has the Ducks dreaming of a trip to Madison Square Garden. (credit:Jayne Kamin)
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.
Showdown in Las Vegas
So, it’s decided but it’s really not. Saint Mary’s closed out the WCC regular season with a tough 67-60 victory over San Francisco on the road, earning an undisputed conference championship for the first time since the 1989 squad coached by Lynn Nance. The Gaels tied Gonzaga for the regular-season title last year – the Zags’ 11th straight WCC championship – and needed a win over San Francisco to avoid another tie this year. They got it, but not without a dogged fight from the Dons, who closed out the season with home games against the conference’s top three teams – BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. They made them all pay, losing narrowly to BYU (85-84), edging Gonzaga, 66-65, and giving Saint Mary’s all they could handle before a frantic home crowd.
The WCC Tournament beginning Wednesday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas will have a lot to say about how many conference members advance to the NCAA Tournament, and, almost as important, where they will play and how high they are seeded. The tournament champion receives the automatic NCAA bid, but almost all commentators agree that both Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga will receive bids no matter what happens in Las Vegas. The same cannot be said for BYU, however, so the Cougars’ need to make a strong showing in Las Vegas – perhaps even win the championship – in one of the compelling stories that will play out over the weekend.
Can Saint Mary's Earn The Automatic Bid Into The Big Dance? Conference POY Matthew Dellavedova Will Have A Huge Say In That (AP)
Others revolve around the conference’s mystery team, Loyola Marymount, and whether San Francisco can maintain the fierce defensive intensity it displayed down the stretch at home with days off between games. The Dons’ road to a high tournament finish requires victories on Thursday against the winner of a play-in game between Portland and Santa Clara, a Friday win against a Loyola team that beat them twice in the regular season, then a semifinal contest on Saturday against the Gaels, who also beat them twice in conference. Not an easy path.
Loyola is in a better position to wreak havoc than San Francisco. Earning a first-round tournament bye with its fourth-place conference finish, the Lions play first on Friday against the winner of the San Francisco/play-in winner game. If it’s a rematch with the Dons, tournament fans will see San Francisco take a third shot at a win that eluded them in two excruciatingly close conference games – a 77-76 overtime loss at home that saw LMU erase a 17-point second-half deficit, and a 90-88 loss in Los Angeles in which LMU had to come from 16 points down. The Dons desperately want another shot at the Lions, and feel they finished stronger than LMU because of their tough battles with the league leaders and LMU’s less-than-overwhelming finish: an inexplicable 60-57 loss to San Diego and a 68-65 nail-biter win against Santa Clara, which was winless in conference play.
Figuring out the psyche of Max Good’s squad would challenge a team of Freuds, however, as the Lions bounced back and forth between helpless – a 76-63 home loss to North Texas – and sublime – a 75-60 upset of Saint Mary’s in Moraga, the Gaels’ only home loss all season. One of the Lions’ quirks is they play better on the road than at home, so maybe a trip to Las Vegas is just what Dr. Freud would order. If they do, indeed, meet and beat San Francisco in the quarterfinals, they will move on to another encounter with Saint Mary’s in Saturday’s first semifinal game (6:00 PM PT, ESPN2). That the Gaels would like another shot at LMU goes without saying, as that loss cost them both a lofty national ranking and injuries to guard StephenHolt, whose return from a torn meniscus is still undecided, center Brad Waldow, who re-injured a bruised rib and had to sit out much of the action, and even indestructible guard MatthewDellavedova, who turned an ankle and left the game for several minutes in the second half.
Who Us? Rex Walters and USF Are Playing Great Basketball (Comcast Sports Net)
BYU’s path to a possible tournament championship takes them through a quarterfinal match with the winner of a San Diego-Pepperdine contest and a semifinal rematch with Gonzaga, with whom they split regular-season games. BYU was without outstanding forward Noah Hartsock (knee injury) for all but the first seven minutes of the second Gonzaga game on Feb. 23, a 74-63 loss. Hartsock also sat out BYU’s final conference game, a 76-66 win over Portland, and his status for Las Vegas has not been announced. With Hartsock in the lineup, a BYU-Gonzaga rematch in Saturday’s second semifinal match (ESPN2, 8:oo PM PT) could be a classic, but we’ll have to wait to see whether Hartsock can go.
As for the championship game on Monday night (6:00 PM PT, ESPN), it has featured Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s for the last three years (Gonzaga won two of the three), and a similar match-up would surprise no one. It would be a rubber game, as the teams split in conference play, and could determine whether either team receives a favorable or dicey NCAA seeding.
Here’s how the 2011-12 WCC season ended up:
Saint Mary’s (25-5, 14-2).
Gonzaga (23-5, 13-3).
BYU (24-7, 12-4)
Loyola Marymount (19-11, 11-5)
San Francisco (18-12, 8-8)
San Diego (12-1, 7-9)
Pepperdine (10-18, 4-12)
Portland (6-23, 3-13)
Santa Clara (8-21, 0-16)
For the second year in a row a Saint Mary’s guard is the West Coast Conference Player of the Year. This time it is Matthew Dellavedova, the 6’4″ junior from Maryborough, Victoria, Australia, who led the conference in assists (6.6 per game) and was third in scoring (16.4 PPG). The Gaels’ Mickey McConnell rated the POY nod last year, and not many observers of the conference would bet against Dellavedova repeating in 2013. In addition to his conference honors, Dellavedova is a finalist in the Bob Cousy Award competition for the nation’s best point guard. Last week, he was named a Capital One Academic All-American, the first Saint Mary’s player to be so honored.
While the choice of Dellavedova raised no eyebrows, selecting Max Good of Loyola Marymount as coach of the year might – even among Loyola fans and alumni. Good has been on the hot seat at LMU ever since last year’s team – picked to compete for conference honors – finished in last place at 2-12. While not ducking his share of blame for the team’s collapse, Good insisted that without crippling injuries his team would have been much better. The Lions weathered some early-season injuries – most notably to All-Conference Forward Drew Viney and his front court mate Ashley Hamilton – and, indeed, did do better this year, finishing fourth in the conference with an 11-5 mark. Along the way, LMU posted wins over UCLA, St. Louis and Valparaiso in non-conference play and over BYU and Saint Mary’s in conference. Good’s fellow coaches – who make the conference honors selections – evidently believe in redemption.
Other individual honors announced by the WCC on Tuesday were Defensive Player of the Year to Gonzaga’s 7’0” senior center Robert Sacre, whose 25 blocks led the league; and WCC Newcomer of the Year to Gonzaga freshman guard Kevin Pangos, whose deadly three-point shooting accounted for 12.8 PPG and 36 three-point field goals. The WCC All-conference team is composed of:
Angelo Caloiaro, San Francisco
Brandon Davies, BYU
Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s
Elias Harris, Gonzaga
Noah Hartsock, BYU
Anthony Ireland, Loyola
Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Robert Sacre, Gonzaga
Drew Viney, Loyola
The conference all-freshman team:
Gary Bell, Jr, Gonzaga
Matt Carlino, BYU
Johnny Dee, San Diego
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Brad Waldow, Saint Mary’s
Honorable mention was accorded to Perris Blackwell, center, San Francisco; Carlino and Dee; Rashad Green, guard, San Francisco; Stephen Holt, guard, Saint Mary’s; and Corbin Moore, center, Pepperdine.
Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.
The Final Week
It all comes down to this week, WCC fans: Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga, BYU and Loyola Marymount all have legitimate shots at the conference title and the one and two seeds for next week’s WCC Tournament. In an age where parity is the Holy Grail of organized sports, the WCC has it going on. And, although this season’s nine-team schedule caused some distortions in the first half of the season, no one could have planned a more compelling finale.
Saint Mary’s can seize the regular season championship and a number one tournament seed by beating Portland tonight in Portland and San Francisco on Saturday in San Francisco. By beating Portland, the Gaels will guarantee at least their second consecutive share of the title. But there has to be a series of asterisks next to that hypothetical, as the Gaels are bucking several negative trends: they have lost at Portland for the last three years and they appear to stumbling toward the finish line as they did last year when they lost an unexpected league game (San Diego in San Diego), a home BracketBuster game against Utah State, then another home game against Gonzaga, before pulling out a season-ending victory over Portland to earn a share of the conference title.
Despite Recent Struggles, Matthew Dellavedova and Saint Mary's Still Control Its Own Destiny (AP)
Last week the Gaels lost an unexpected home game to Loyola Marymount, 75-60, lost to Murray State on the road, 65-51, in another BracketBuster contest, and now face a young, talented Portland team with nothing to lose on its home court tonight. Combined with injuries to starting two-guard Stephen Holt, out indefinitely with a torn meniscus suffered in the LMU loss, starting post man Brad Waldow, nursing bruised ribs, and team leader Matthew Dellavedova, who turned his ankle in the LMU game, the Gaels are wobbling into Portland.
Gonzaga and BYU square off tonight in a monumental battle (ESPN2, 8:00 PM Pacific) that could vault either of them into a tie with Saint Mary’s for first or, if the Gaels win, eliminate one of them from title contention heading into Saturday’s final games. LMU, which is smoking hot coming off its blistering of Saint Mary’s in Moraga, sits at home for very winnable games against San Diego tonight and Santa Clara on Saturday. With just a minimal effort, the Lions could finish with four losses and cash in on whatever misfortunes befall the three teams ahead of them.
Not to be overlooked, San Francisco hopes to take continuing advantage of a scheduling gift that brought BYU, Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s onto its home court in successive weeks. The Dons battled BYU right down to a potential game-winning three-point attempt by Angelo Coloiaro that rimmed out at the buzzer for a heart-breaking 85-84 loss last Thursday. Rather than be deflated, the Dons battled Gonzaga equally hard on Saturday, and triumphed 65-64 on a last-second runner in the lane by Rashad Green. The Dons are off tonight and can devote maximum preparation to ruining Saint Mary’s season on Saturday.
Saint Mary’s (23-5, 12-2) might seem surprised to find itself still in first place considering the confidence-shattering losses to LMU and Murray State, which knocked it out of “lock” status for a favorable seeding in the NCAA tournament and leaves the Gaels needing a win tonight or Saturday to keep its NCAA hopes alive. Randy Bennett’s troops are wounded and have to be wondering why they continue to struggle late in the season. Even with these concerns, the Gaels still control their own fate. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Kevin Pangos and the Zags Are Ready to Pursue #12
Gonzaga (9-2) completed its pre-WCC season out of conference schedule (still a December 31 game against Xavier in Cincinnati to go) on a roll, dispatching Oral Roberts (67-61), Arizona (71-60), Butler (71-55) and Air Force (70-60) at home, to get ready for an attempt at a 12th straight WCC title beginning on Wednesday against struggling Portland. The Zags have apparently settled on an all-freshman starting backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr., and why shouldn’t they considering how the newcomers have performed so far? Pangos capped off his initial slate of college games by dropping 23 points on Air Force. With a solid rotation, a consistent front line and new energy in the back court, the Zags are ready.
BYU (10-3) barely lost its chance to post a big upset against 6th/7th-ranked Baylor, losing 86-83 after a spirited game marked by the debut of guard Matt Carlino. Carlino, sitting out an imposed benching following his transfer from UCLA, scored 18 points against Baylor in 22 minutes of action, then followed up with 10 points in a Cougar win over Buffalo (93-78), and 22 points in an 89-75 rout of UC Santa Barbara. A mostly-veteran team like Gonzaga, BYU is ready for its initial WCC season with its rotation solidified and only one injured player, 6’8″ junior forward Stephen Rogers, who hurt his knee in practice before the Baylor game.
Saint Mary’s (11-2) missed a chance to garner a signature win when it, too, fell to Baylor 72-59 on a neutral court in Las Vegas. The Gaels bounced back on the next night, however, dispatching Missouri Valley Conference contender Missouri State 77-61 behind emerging post man Brad Waldow (17 points). Coach Randy Bennett’s goal in the preseason was to settle on the center position, and he seems to have done that with Waldow’s performance in the Las Vegas Classic tournament, for which he was named to the all-tournament team. Waldow will alternate in the post with junior Mitchell Young and senior Kenton Walker II, but all other Gael positions are set with veterans. Senior forward Clint Steindl rolled an ankle in the Missouri State game, and it is not known how long he will be sidelined.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Reader’s Take I
No. 1. The West Coast Conference has a ready-made top storyline for 2011-12: the addition (and possible subtraction) of Brigham Young University to the league. Initially seen as a coup for highly-regarded WCC Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich, BYU’s status as a WCC member got caught up in the latest craziness involving BCS football conferences. With some sources insisting the Cougars were just waiting for an opportune moment (or invitation) to bolt to the Big 12, much criticism has come down upon the institution for flirting with WCC membership while seeking greater opportunities elsewhere. Sadly, as in all the BCS conference upheavals, the uncertainty is driven by football and possible revenues therefrom. BYU officials have done little to reassure WCC members that they’re in it for the long run, so fans will just have to watch and wait to see what happens. Regardless of long-term prospects, however, the Cougars are competing in the WCC for the 2011-12 season and that is the top storyline.
BYU is a Member of the WCC, But For How Long?
BYU’s inclusion brings a perennial top 25 team into a league that was already on the upswing with the continued success of Gonzaga, the emergence of Saint Mary’s as a postseason regular and the upsurge in other programs such as Portland, San Francisco and Santa Clara. Expectations that the WCC might become a consistent three-bid NCAA conference have fueled excitement for the coming season, and sparked hot stove league discussions over which of the conference’s consensus top three programs will emerge as the champion and recipient of an automatic NCAA Tournament invitation. Strong arguments can be made for BYU, Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s capturing that prize, and strong arguments are what fuels fan interest.
No. 2. Will Elias Harris have a break-out season in 2011-12 and carry Gonzaga past the early-round NCAA departures (GU’s last Sweet Sixteen appearance was in 2009) that have haunted the Zags the last two years? It is hard to pinpoint where this surge in Harris excitement comes from – certainly not the tight-lipped Gonzaga basketball program under non-boaster Mark Few – but it has been repeated enough to take on a life of its own. It seems to be based on the fact that he burst on the scene as an explosive scorer and rebounder as a 20-year-old freshman from Germany, posting 15/7 scoring and rebounding averages. He fizzled somewhat last season, at least partially stemming from shoulder and Achilles injuries, and so the stage is set for a comeback. What Harris boosters don’t take into account is that the league may have found ways to defend him based on his weaknesses in putting the ball on the floor, a sameness in his offensive moves (you can only make that power spin move so often) and his penchant for giving up the ball when pressured. Whether it’s a break-out or something less, Harris’ junior season will establish whether he is a superstar or just a good small forward.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our first update is from the West Coast Conference and comes courtesy of Will Green, an editor and writer with The Slipper Still Fits.
Readers’ Take One
Brigham Young University Joins The Conference: When this story was first reported back in September, it was largely forgotten. BYU’s move was a football one with basketball repercussions, not the other way around. If anyone was talking about the Cougars, the dialogue was centered around how much money it would receive from it slew of nationally televised football contests this coming fall, and how many years the vaunted program would remain as an independent before choosing to join another league, securing even more lucrative contracts. The move, however, might make a greater impact on the collegiate basketball landscape than the football one, competitively speaking. For one thing, resident king Gonzaga’s streak of conference championships – which is older than most of your children – or at least its general reputation as the WCC’s top dog, is seriously endangered. With Jimmer Fredette seizing all available national attention like a Venus flytrap, lost on many fans last year was the fact BYU was not merely a fortuitous program enjoying an unusually good year. The Cougars have been a top 40 RPI team since 2006, with a pair of top 20 finishes. That’s not a second Gonzaga — that’s better than Gonzaga. They also bring by far the largest student body and largest fan base that the league has ever seen. Indeed, the league can leverage BYU’s prominence to grow its influence and scope (more on that later). Despite being a “football move,” BYU’s departure from the Mountain West Conference is not, as so many of the recent realignment moves have been, a casualty of circumstance. The aforementioned “repercussions” became a mutually beneficial improvement for both the Cougars and the league. Credit alert diplomacy and geographical convenience to why commissioner Jamie Zaninovichwas able to lure a team into his league that’s also, statistically speaking, better than any team in his current league.
Brandon Davies, if Reinstated by BYU, is an X-Factor for the Cougars in 2011-12 (Getty/E. Miller)
The League Gets A New TV contract: Over the course of the 2000s, the WCC did a remarkable thing: It became the most widely televised college basketball league of all the leagues in the West, while being only the fourth highest-rated league by RPI of the six in the region. Resident behemoth Pac-12 trusted its games to the insipid hands of Fox Sports’ cluster of regional networks. The Mountain West conference was largely marooned out on “The Mtn,” a network that truncated both its name and its audience by being available in a far more limited number of homes than the heavy-hitting Pac-12. The Western Athletic Conference enjoyed the occasional ESPNU game. The WCC, on the other hand, had its most intriguing matchups beamed into peoples’ living rooms in prime time on Thursday and Saturday nights (and for a time, on Big Monday) via ESPN or ESPN2. Both sides had such a good time putting the whole mess together that when their previous contract expired on June 1, it took exactly one week to renegotiate an eight-year extension. The new deal increases the amount of ESPN games featuring WCC teams by an average of at least five per year, possibly much more, and is spread across Thursday, Saturday and select Monday nights. While some critics contend the new ESPN contract isn’t much of an improvement over the previous one, their voices were provoked loudest during the rather dwarfing aftershock of the Pac-12’s mammoth deal with the same network. While this upcoming season could mark the first time in a long while that the WCC won’t be the most-watched west coast league, the league strengthened its relationship with ESPN and is poised to showcase what should be its most successful year ever in front of its widest audience to date. In an era of scrambling realignment and a fragile economic landscape, this is a still a huge win.
The University of San Diego Suffers A Bribery Scandal: In April, this story looked crippling. San Diego had just finished one of the worst seasons by any WCC team ever when news broke that Toreros’ all-time leading scorer and current Memphis Grizzlies protégé, Brandon Johnson, was allegedly used to solicit current USD player Ken Rancifer on behalf of a delinquent named Steven Goria and several others to fix a game against the University of Portland on February 24. Also revealed was the news that Johnson himself had allegedly fixed a game during his senior season one year earlier. The good news for USD is that the story is quickly losing momentum, due in large part to the recent news that the 2011 team has largely been cleared of wrongdoing (Rancifer turned down the bribe from those attempting to fix the game) Repercussions from the 2010 game will ensue once the FBI is done investigating the entire case, and could involve recruiting sanctions or a postseason ban. Frankly, the Toreros are so deep in the throes of rebuilding that they might not enjoy any such postseason for the NCAA to ban in the first place. All told, this could have been much, much worse for USD. The true damage of the scandal is neither physical nor fiscal, but is still potentially very heavy. While it’s growing steadily, the WCC is not yet a national brand and one dominant negative story can define the WCC and USD for a large group of fans who aren’t very familiar with a non-power six league that’s on TV after they go bed. Show-stealing years from perennial contenders like Gonzaga and BYU, as well as postseason disruptiveness by the likes of St. Mary’s and Santa Clara, would be a good first step toward taking casual fans’ focus off of the scandal. Of course, if USD itself can somehow bounce back from a 6-24 record and win a few games they’re not supposed to, they just might turn themselves into national feel-good story.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Each week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are in the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With another passing week, there is plenty of recruiting news including standout performances at AAU events, commitments and de-commitments, and the latest news on where high-profile prospects are likely to go to college. However, the biggest revelation by far in this past week was a recruiting scandal at a mid-major D1 school that has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game but somehow managed to land two elite prospects. Read on to see how a young man from Chicago, a head coach at a mid-major basketball program and a high-profile former felon created the biggest recruiting scandal in the past few years.
What We Learned
Kevin Ware's recruitment exposed ties between UCF head coach Donnie Jones and convicted felon Kenneth Caldwell.
Kevin Ware’s Recruitment and Central Florida’s Recruiting Scandal. After class of 2011 shooting guard Kevin Ware committed to the Knights two weeks ago, he backed out of the agreement Thursday when he learned of Kenneth Caldwell’s background, a Chicago man with a substantial criminal record and apparent ties to a prominent sports agency. Ware claims that Caldwell repeatedly called him to encourage him to attend Central Florida, traveled to meet with his family and even set up conversations between Ware, himself and head coach Donnie Jones and Jones’ staff – contact which is prohibited by the NCAA. Caldwell formally denied recruiting players for UCF and claimed he was simply impressed by UCF… a school that has never won an NCAA Tournament game.
When Ware and his family were asked about what coaches said their relationship with Caldwell was, they said the coaches claimed they had no direct affiliation with him but that they had known him for a year. This left the Ware family wondering exactly who Caldwell was and how he tied in with UCF. On his LinkedIn page, Caldwell claimed to be a recruiter of potential NBA players for ASM Sports, which the company later confirmed. What was even more frightening about Caldwell’s background were his two felony convictions in 1991 and again in 1998. He also owes the IRS close to $250,000. After looking at his history and claims, Caldwell could fairly be labeled as a “runner,” someone who acts as a middle man to deliver players to universities and agents.
How current UCF commit Michael Chandler Ties In. Caldwell’s ties to the UCF program started a few years ago when a high school student whom he refers to as his “son” committed to the Knights. Then, two more players whom Caldwell likes to call his “nephews” also chose UCF for their collegiate careers, including one of the best class of 2011 centers in the country, Michael Chandler. Before becoming a Knight, Chandler had previously committed to Louisville and Xavier before he shocked many people by settling on Central Florida. Chandler’s high school coach said he’d never even heard of Central Florida before Chandler committed there. However, Chandler’s uncle said the prospect chose UCF on its merits. In Pat Forde’s column this week analyzing the odd recruitment, he said a source with knowledge of the situation claimed that Caldwell bragged about having inside information of where Chandler would be attending college well before he made his decision public.