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

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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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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on February 4th, 2013

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

Looking Back

The Road Ahead — With the Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s stranglehold on the top two spots in the WCC becoming more evident every week, the question arises whether either of them has an edge down the home stretch. The Gaels have a more difficult task because they are a game behind the Zags, so it has to count on a win over Gonzaga at home and running the table on the rest of the conference to earn a tie. To gain a repeat of their outright WCC title, Saint Mary’s must hope that Gonzaga stumbles once more in addition to losing in Moraga. How likely is this scenario?

  • The Gaels have seven games left, four on the road and three at home. Certainly wins at Santa Clara, San Diego, Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine are not guaranteed, but the Saint Mary’s schedule is more favorable than the Zags’. The Gaels will face Gonzaga and BYU on successive Thursdays, February 14 and February 21, on the cozy McKeon Pavilion floor where they easily handled both last year (98-82 over BYU and 83-62 over Gonzaga). A 15-1 mark is not out of the Gaels’ reach.

    Matthew Dellavadova and Saint Mary's are hoping Gonzaga stumbles down the stretch (AP)

    Matthew Dellavedova and Saint Mary’s are hoping Gonzaga stumbles down the stretch (AP)

  • Gonzaga would seem to have an advantage in that five of its remaining eight games are at home, and none of those should present a serious challenge. However, the Zags’ three remaining road games are troublesome because they lost to all three opponents – Saint Mary’s, BYU and San Francisco – last year. The Thursday-Saturday (February 14-16) Bay Area match-ups against Saint Mary’s and San Francisco are particularly troublesome because Gonzaga has lost to San Francisco three years in a row at War Memorial Gymnasium, was thumped by the Gaels in Moraga last year, and barely squeaked by them at home last month (83-78). And, despite its glittering 21-2 record and high RPI and national ranking, Gonzaga has struggled on the road several times this year: In an early-season win over Washington State (71-69), a loss at Butler (64-63), and last week’s nail-biting win over San Diego (65-63). As a wise man once said, it isn’t over until the fat lady sings and she hasn’t even cleared her throat yet.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (8-0, 21-2): It wasn’t easy for the Zags to remain undefeated for the first half of the conference season and become the first team in the nation to reach 21 victories, as they found themselves trailing lowly San Diego 55-53 with 9:26 remaining and tied at 59-all with 4:54 on the clock.
    Successive layups by Kelly Olynyk and a clutch drive and finish by David Stockton gave them a cushion to withstand a final Toreros push.
  2. Saint Mary’s (8-1, 19-4): After sweating out a tense 67-63 road win over San Francisco and its tenacious defensive pressure, the Gaels relaxed with a 77-42 laugher against struggling Portland in Moraga. Finding his three-point stroke after a conference season-long absence, Matthew Dellavedova hit four threes in the first half en route to a game-high 23 points. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on January 30th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Conference sorting itself out? — It’s halfway for some and near halfway for others, so how is the WCC conference race sorting out?

Here’s one viewpoint:

  • Gonzaga (6-0 WCC) and Saint Mary’s (6-1) seem locked into a two-team struggle for the regular season title and a showdown in the conference tournament in Las Vegas in March. Gonzaga has been cruising behind Kelly Olynyk’s resurgence in the post, and may not be challenged until it meets Saint Mary’s in Moraga on Valentine’s Day. The Gaels have used a stunning last-second victory over BYU in Provo to propel themselves to a five-game winning streak and a renewed sense of purpose. Architect of the streak has been – who else? – senior point guard Matthew Dellavedova. Not only did Delly personally secure the BYU win with his ESPN #1 highlight buzzer-beater, he has been orchestrating the Gaels’ offense even more brilliantly. His record last week of 21 assists and zero turnovers in two Gael wins has record-keepers looking for comparable stats.

    Kelly Olynyk's season keeps on getting better and better (Getty)

    Kelly Olynyk’s season keeps on getting better and better (Getty)

  • BYU will protest strenuously that it is not out of title consideration, but a home loss to Saint Mary’s and a road loss to Gonzaga weaken its argument considerably. The Cougars have a chance to play a major role when they face Gonzaga at home on February 28, but that may come too late depending on how they fare in a rematch with Saint Mary’s in Moraga the week before. Picking up a third loss against the Gaels will almost certainly eliminate the Cougs from the title race.
  • Santa Clara seems poised to move into the slot right behind BYU if it can retain its consistency. The Broncos faltered with three conference losses in a row but have bounced back with four straight wins. In their favor or posing a huge obstacle is a scheduling anomaly that postpones their first game against Saint Mary’s until February 7 at home. A win there would seriously erode the Gaels’ chances and give the Broncos momentum heading into the last weeks of the campaign.
  • The rest of the conference is a bit of a puzzle, with San Francisco and Pepperdine showing intermittent promise and San Diego fading fast. The only thing that seems certain is that Loyola Marymount and Portland will be battling to keep out of last place.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (6-0, 19-2): The Zags took care of business at home with an 83-63 thrashing of BYU and a 66-52 win over San Francisco that wasn’t as close as the score indicates – the Dons trailed by 23 with less than two minutes left before scoring the last nine points with the outcome never in doubt. The Zags can claim to have stopped both their opponent’s top players, holding Tyler Haws of BYU and Cole Dickerson of San Francisco without a bucket in the two games. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on January 23rd, 2013

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

Looking Back

Buzzer Beaters – Last-second decisions stunned two WCC teams last week and left one elated.

  • Wearing smiles as they departed Provo were the Saint Mary’s Gaels, who saw their leader, Matthew Dellavedova, execute one of the most efficient take-downs in college hoops this season. Trailing BYU 69-67 on a typically brilliant Tyler Haws leaner in the paint, with 2.5 seconds on the clock and no timeouts left, Delly didn’t hesitate. He sprinted down the right sideline, clapped his hands in case Beau Levesque might have thought about inbounding to someone else, took Levesque’s pass around midcourt, made a neat crossover dribble to avoid a BYU defender and let loose a 35-footer with 0.6 seconds left. Nothing but net, as the announcers say, and the Gaels had a small rush-the-court moment of their own in the cavernous Marriott Center. It was a strange celebration, with the Gaels and their coaches jumping in excitement and the 15,000 BYU fans standing in dazed silence.

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    Matthew Dellavedova’s buzzer beater added another exciting chapter to the Saint Mary’s-BYU rivalry (AP)

  • Two nights later in the venerable Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University, Gonzaga felt the sting of another incredible finish. The Zags were in even better shape against Butler than Saint Mary’s was against BYU: They not only held a 63-62 lead, but also had possession of the ball at midcourt after a seemingly-devastating blunder by Butler’s Alex Barlow. Barlow’s travelling violation trying to make a move similar to Dellavedova’s showed how delicate it is to position one’s body for a shot with time running out. All the Zags had to do was inbound the ball, take the inevitable foul and make some free throws to ice a memorable win. But David Stockton made a lazy, looping pass towards Kelly Olynyk and Butler’s Roosevelt Jones played it like an NFL cornerback. He swooped in front of Olynyk to snatch the pass and covered the rest of the court in time to launch a runner before 3.5 seconds ticked off. Jones’ shot was good, but Gonzaga’s night was ruined.


Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (4-0, 17-2): As painful as it was to endure, Gonzaga’ loss to Butler didn’t affect its position atop the WCC. Coming after a routine dismantling of Portland by 71-49, the week’s efforts left the Zags as the conference’s only undefeated team.
  2. BYU (5-1, 15-5):  Saint Mary’s spoiled BYU’s perfect conference record, but the Cougars bounced back against another undefeated team, San Diego, with an authoritative 74-57 win over the high-flying Toreros. It was Dave Rose’s 200th career win at BYU, and featured a 25-point effort by the unstoppable Haws, following his 23 points against Saint Mary’s. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on January 16th, 2013

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

Looking Back

Killer App: The preseason buzz about Gonzaga’s prospects in 2012-13 centered around the expected emergence of Sam Dower. With the graduation of sturdy post presence Robert Sacre, currently playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, Dower would step out of Sacre’s shadow and become the centerpiece of the Zags’ offense. Hasn’t happened.

Kelly Olynyk (13) just keeps on getting better and better for the Zags (Gonzaga athletics)

Kelly Olynyk (13) just keeps on getting better and better for the Zags (Gonzaga athletics)

Kelly Olynyk, who took off last season to refine his game and body, has blown into the WCC season as the conference’s most dominating player since Omar Samhan of Saint Mary’s in 2010 and Adam Morrison of Gonzaga in 2006. With back-to-back 30-point performances in the Zags’ wins over Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s last week, Olynyk underscored the conference’s somewhat belated announcement that he was Player of the Month for December. His stats are impressive enough – 18.1 PPG on 66.2% field goal shooting – but it is his combination of skills that has made him seemingly unstoppable. He combines a guard’s ball-handling ability in a toned seven-footer’s body with a deadly outside shot and an evolving array of post moves and drives down the lane. It’s a combination that no one in the WCC has figured out how to combat.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (3-0, 16-1): With only one game last week, the Zags were locked and loaded when Saint Mary’s flew into Spokane for an ESPN-featured game on Thursday (January 10). They looked it in an overpowering first half, running up an 18-point lead (46-28) and sending the home crowd into a heightened state of delirium. It was delirium tremens in the second half, however, as the Gaels put up 50 points and moved to within a point at 79-78 with 14 seconds left. With no other option but to foul, however, the Gaels fell short and the Zags prevailed, 83-78.
  2. BYU (4-0, 14-4): Don’t look now but Dave Rose has his team operating with its usual ruthless efficiency, cruising to a 25-point win over visiting Pepperdine (76-51) and then downing Santa Clara in Bronco-land, 82-64. Tyler Haws continued his blistering scoring pace with 24 points in each win, and three other Cougs joined him in double figures against Santa Clara. Matt Carlino’s bald head is not the only evidence that Rose may have resulted to off-season brain surgery to rein in his free-wheeling ways. Playing with eerie patience, Carlino is forcing nothing this year, evidenced by his 3-of-4 shooting from the three-point stripe against Pepperdine. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Another Unbeaten Falls, Gonzaga Consolidates WCC Supremacy, and Hurricanes Continue To Roll…

Posted by Chris Johnson on January 11th, 2013

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Tonight’s Lede. Winning the NCAA Tournament requires a fortuitous boost of momentum. Getting hot at the right time is just as important as crafting a gaudy NCAA Tournament resume. The tourney is a sprint, not a long-winded journey, the very essence of the regular season. Teams face 30-game gauntlets of varying difficulty, but getting through unscathed – regardless of schedule strength – is immensely difficult. To go undefeated in the regular season is to survive dozens of potential pitfalls and enormous mounting national pressure. You’re pestered with constant questions about “the streak” and “the goal.” Coaches dedicate extra hours to engineering the foolproof game plan that will slay the giant. Student sections get geeked up beyond reason in the hopes of helping their favorite teams spring the upset. Only special teams can make it without bowing to those pressures. There are no special teams in 2012-13; no one is running the table this year. There are no dominant teams, no 2012 Kentuckys or 2009 North Carolinas – two all-time great teams who couldn’t make it through the regular season without taking at least one loss. Three undefeated teams entered Thursday night’s games, all nationally prominent programs from high major conferences. Two now remain, and the other two will meet their unbeaten doomsday sooner rather than later.

Your Watercooler Moment. A Close Game Arizona Couldn’t Win.

Dominic Artis (left) celebrates the win over Arizona with a fan after the student section stormed the floor. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

Dominic Artis (left) celebrates the win over Arizona with a fan after the student section rushed the court. (Photo by Rockne Andrew Roll)

A universal theme in advanced statictical analysis at the team level is skepticism over narrow margins of victory. Over time, close wins balance out, luck turns into late-game misfortune, and all those last-possession victories stacked up early in the season are joined by a near equal number of nail-biting losses. Four of Arizona’s best wins this season – at Clemson, vs. Florida, vs. San Diego State and vs. Colorado – came down to the final moments. It’s most recent closer-than-close triumph against Colorado was the best reminder of the fine-tooth comb that is late-game management. The difference between winning and losing hotly-contested fixtures can be a missed jump shot, a pass thrown out of bounds, an errant dribble off one’s leg, a clanked free-throw. Or, an outdated replay monitor can blur the referees’ review efficacy and rob one Sabatino Chen of a classic buzzer-beating upset. Arizona had the looming specter of karmic reprisal hanging over its heads as it traveled to Eugene to take on a quality Oregon team. The stage was set for the Ducks to dethrone Arizona on the final possession and end the Wildcats’ streak of late-game fortune. Instead, Oregon battled Arizona from the start with physical defense, a hyper-athletic frontcourt, a couple of really intriguing freshmen (Dominic Artis and Damyeon Dotson can really play) and a balanced offensive attack. The victory wasn’t sealed until Nick Johnson committed a crucial turnover near the three-point line with Arizona down just three and less than 10 seconds to go, but the Ducks held double-digit leads for large stretches in the second half. This wasn’t a fluky, home-crafted upset. Oregon was every bit the better team tonight.

Tonight’s Quick Hits. 

  • About That “Crushing” Reggie Johnson Injury. The prevailing view on Reggie Johnson’s thumb injury was that Miami was really going to miss its senior big man. Johnson isn’t the most skilled or the most athletic frontcourt player around. What he is – and I mean this in a totally positive, not-Josh Smith way – is massive, an immovable force who eats up space and hoards prime positioning under and around the basket. Plus, Johnson really gets after it on the offensive and defensive boards, protects the rim and physically dominates whoever enters the painted area. Since Johnson went on the mend around Christmas, Miami has won four of six games, its only losses coming against Arizona and Indiana State at the Diamond Head Classic. None of its wins (Hawaii, LaSalle, Georgia Tech) really cemented the belief that Miami could thrive without Johnson in the lineup, but Thursday night’s triumph over North Carolina did exactly that (UNC is no world-beater, but a solid win nonetheless) especially because forward Kenny Kadji – an extremely talented but inconsistent frontcourt piece – was excellent. Once Johnson returns, throw him into a frontcourt rotation with Kadji, and this team is as qualified as any to make a run at Duke for league bragging rights. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO…the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on January 8th, 2013

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

Looking Back

  • The Week That Was: It began on New Year’s Eve in Stillwater, Oklahoma, in the packed Gallagher-Iba Arena that is home to the #22 Oklahoma State Cowboys. A tidy 69-68 win behind a clutch three-point shot by Gary Bell with 35.7 seconds left, followed by a pair of free throws by Bell’s backcourt mate, Kevin Pangos, sent the Gonzaga Bulldogs 1,400 miles west on New Year’s Day in advance of a January 3 conference-opener against Pepperdine. After hanging around Malibu for three days, the Zags dispatched the Waves 78-62 before 2,000 somewhat interested spectators, then headed up the California coast where an aroused Santa Clara Bronco squad was waiting on Saturday. The Broncos were fresh off a hard-fought 74-69 win over Bay Area rival San Francisco and still stoked over hanging with Duke in their last non-conference game (Duke eventually won 90-77). Santa Clara at least had the courtesy to provide a record-breaking Leavey Center crowd of nearly 5,000 screaming fans, and battled the Zags harder than the spunky Waves before succumbing 81-74 despite Kevin Foster’s 29 points. “It was a great road trip,” commented Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “Probably the best I’ve ever been on in 25 years.” While some might question Few’s choices for New Year’s week recreation, it left no doubt that the Zags are poised to reclaim the WCC title they held for 11 straight years before surrendering it last year.

    Rumors of Mark Few and Gonzaga leaving the WCC keeps getting louder and louder (AP)

    Rumors of Mark Few and Gonzaga leaving the WCC keeps getting louder and louder (AP)

  • Conference Shopping: Few had stirred up his WCC colleagues in the non-conference period by musing out loud whether the Zags might have to take some protective action in case the turmoil among BCS football institutions should infect basketball. His comments came in the wake of the decision by seven Big East Catholic colleges to withdraw from that conference and establish an all-basketball league composed of themselves and a group of as-yet-unnamed like-minded schools. A Gonzaga official let it be known that the Zags were willing to join the Catholic Seven, but so far they haven’t been invited. The Zags’ outstanding non-conference record, however, sheds some light on why the Zags might feel the WCC is beneath them. The victory over Oklahoma State gave them a five-game sweep of Big 12 competition, following other wins this year over West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Baylor. The Big 12 is a power conference while the WCC is an up-an-coming mid-major league, and maybe Gonzaga thinks it has outgrown the small arenas in places like Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary’s.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (2-0, 15-1): It was business as usual for the Zags, even though both Pepperdine and Santa Clara provided some anxious moments. The Waves held Gonzaga to 43.4% shooting and even led 36-35 with 14 minutes left, but just didn’t have the troops to stave off a 78-62 loss. The Waves took some comfort from the 22 minutes played by Jan Maehlen, at seven-feet plus and 300 pounds plus the largest body in the WCC since Brad “Big Continent” Mallard at Saint Mary’s in the 90s. Although Meahlen was credited with only four points and a single rebound, he clogged up the middle enough to help contain the Zags’ rampaging center Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk, who has been overpowering in recent games, totaled a career-best 33 points in the Zags’ win over Santa Clara, highlighting the Broncos’ woeful lack of a post presence. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO…the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on January 2nd, 2013

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

Looking Back

  • Conference Roars Back: Five minutes into the second half of last Saturday’s Duke-Santa Clara game Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski might have had a passing thought along the lines of, “Who are these guys?” His undefeated and number-one-ranked Blue Devils were trailing Santa Clara, 45-44, and the Duke coach would have had a hard time believing this was the same Santa Clara squad that went 0-16 in the WCC last year. What kind of conference produces a last-place team that can threaten the Dukies on their home court, Coach K might have wondered. Duke’s fears eased, as a disastrous flagrant foul by Santa Clara’s Yannick Atanga on Miles Plumlee produced a five-point turnaround that put Duke up 49-44 and led them to a 90-77 win. Santa Clara’s bold attack on the Durham fortress remained on Krzyzewski’s mind afterwards, however, as he remarked, “This was like a February ACC game.” Indeed, Santa Clara’s gutty effort epitomized a strong week for the WCC, as it completed its non-conference season with an 80-44 mark (.645 winning percentage). Gonzaga led the way with strong wins over Baylor at home and Oklahoma State on the road on Monday to burnish a 13-1 record and No. 13 national ranking. Saint Mary’s completed a sweep of the Ivy League with a last-second 70-69 win over Harvard also on Monday following a 78-62 win over Yale, and BYU ran away from Virginia Tech 91-71 behind 42 points from Tyler Haws, the WCC Player of the Week.

    Even in a loss, Kevin Foster and company were tremendous (Getty)

    Even in a loss, Kevin Foster and company were tremendous (Getty)

  • Pangos Bangos: If not for Haws’ outburst against Virginia Tech, the talk of the conference would certainly have been Kevin Pangos’ 31-point effort against Baylor. Last year’s Golden Boy was slumping heading into the showdown with Baylor, scoring under the 10 PPG mark and shooting just 38 percent. But Baylor seemingly forgot what Gonzaga’s foes from last year have surely learned – you can’t leave Pangos alone beyond the three-point line. He drilled the Bears at a 10-of-13 rate, including 7-of-10 from long distance.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (13-1): All systems are go for the Zags to reclaim the WCC title they surrendered last year to Saint Mary’s, as Mark Few’s squad completed its most impressive non-conference slate in several years. Kelly Olynyk has returned from a redshirt year reinvigorated, providing the Zags’ frontcourt an unexpected boost – as if it needed one. With senior Elias Harris providing steady excellence (15.5 PPG, 7.5 RPG), Olynyk chipping in at 14.6 PPG and 6.6 RPG and the Zags’ backcourt coming alive as evidenced by Pangos’ 31 points against Baylor, this is the WCC’s most complete team heading into conference play.

    Kelly Olynyk (right) and Gonzaga head into conference play as the likely favorite (AP)

    Kelly Olynyk (right) and Gonzaga head into conference play as the likely favorite (AP)

  2. Saint Mary’s (11-3): It has not been so smooth for Randy Bennett’s Gaels, as losses to underwhelming Pacific, Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa have revealed flaws in the Saint Mary’s offense. Matthew Dellavedova’s scoring (18.5 PPG) and assist numbers (6.3 APG) are excellent, but teams have been able to keep him from hurting them. Bennett has cobbled together a two-part solution to the power forward spot vacated by Rob Jones, getting a combined output of more than 16 PPG and 10 RPG out of Mitchell Young and Beau Levesque, but it is not as smooth as last year. The Gaels’ salvation may prove to be its excellent guard foursome of Dellavedova, Stephen Holt (11.3 PPG), James Walker III (9.8 PPG) and Jorden Page (8.3 PPG), but they need redshirt sophomore post man Brad Waldow (10.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG) to step up every night if they are to defend their title. Read the rest of this entry »
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ATB: Bluegrass Battle Produces Drama, UNC Steps Up Against UNLV, and One Excellent Day For Kevin Ollie….

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 31st, 2012

ATB

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

The Weekend’s Lede. Commonwealth Rivalry Lives Up. It doesn’t get any bigger than Louisville-Kentucky. There are little rivalries that make for great shows of organic competitiveness and bitterness, but they have nothing on what took place Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center. Each year, no matter the disparities in talent or experience, these teams come to play in this rivalry game. The emotional baggage makes the Commonwealth clash an event in itself. When you get two Top 25 sides trading jabs, two coaches with well-established personal gripes – one of whom has navigated the delicate balance of a blue-to-red partisan conversion – there’s added drama to throw on top of the natural hatred. One side (Louisville) entered with more talent, experience and depth, but as is the case in most rivalry games, the final outcome was decided based on who could execute better in crunch time (and who could convert from the free throw line). Whatever your allegiance, or if your viewing interest was of the impartial variety, it’s hard to begrudge the sheer quality and entertainment factor of Saturday’s contest. Louisville-Kentucky was the massive event overshadowing the rest of the weekend, but there were a few other interesting games on tap. Time to wrap up the final weekend of non-conference play.

Your Watercooler Moment. Harrow Doesn’t Break Under Pressure.

Considering he was facing the most relentless ball-pressuring backcourt in the country, Harrow managed the big stage with unexpected poise (photo credit: Getty Images).

Considering he was facing the most relentless ball-pressuring backcourt in the country, Harrow managed the big stage with unexpected poise (photo credit: Getty Images).

The biggest question mark looming over Kentucky’s slow start was the comfort and progression of point guard Ryan Harrow. No one ever said he was going to be Derrick Rose, or even Marquis Teague – the Calipari point guard dynasty is a tough standard to maintain – Harrow simply needs to operate at a level that allows the Wildcats to maximize the talents of Kyle Wiltjer, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin on the perimeter, and enable Nerlens Noel to capitalize on easy lobs and putbacks. Even that seemed like a pipe dream for Harrow following a mysterious four-game absence in November. He’s made huge strides over the past three weeks, and had his best game (23 points on 10-of-17 shooting) just over a week ago in an 82-54 win over Marshall. That was a small step. In Louisville, Harrow was walking into one of the best defensive backcourts statistically-speaking in NCAA history (its 80.0 adjusted defensive efficiency entering Saturday’s game ranks among the best marks in Ken Pomeroy’s database, dating back to 2003), and few believed he was ready to handle the type of pressure Russ Smith and Peyton Siva were going to throw at him. Harrow jumped into the biggest spotlight of his career and performed like a point guard of Calipari’s recent vintage. Not only did Harrow score 17 points and help spearhead a furious second-half rally, but he committed zero turnovers, found ways to ward off the active hands and smothering pressure of Siva and Smith, and commanded Kentucky’s offense with aplomb. The scoreboard reflects a Kentucky loss, a short-term disappointment. In the long term, if Harrow’s performance is a barometer for his development and maturation in Calipari’s system, Saturday was a huge win. With a capable point guard puppeteering the offense, the future is bright for Kentucky.

Also Worth Chatting About. Don’t Count Out UNC Yet.

The Tar Heels Looked locked-in defensively against the talented Rebels (photo credit: Getty Images).

The Tar Heels Looked locked-in defensively against the talented Rebels (photo credit: Getty Images).

If any team needed a statement win heading into conference play, it was North Carolina. Besides a puzzling loss at Texas (and even that, given the Longhorns’ defensive chops, is not a fatal misstep) The Tar Heels hadn’t exactly dropped the ball in non-conference play – they lost to two very good teams from the state of Indiana, one an offensive juggernaut (IU) and one a vaunted perfectionist (Butler) in the art of sizing up and beating down more talented opponents – but they hadn’t exactly looked like the ACC front-runner many expected them to be. The visiting UNLV Rebels offered a prime opportunity to hold court against a top-20-level outfit, and build some serious momentum for ACC play in the process. UNC’s stifling defense and balanced scoring overwhelmed the Rebels, who suffered a brutal five-minute field goal-less streak in the second half and received an uncharacteristically inefficient showing from freshman wunderkind Anthony Bennett (15 points on 6-of-16 shooting). Neither team was at full strength – Mike Moser played just 12 minutes in his return from an elbow injury, and Reggie Bullock was scratched with a concussion – but UNC seized its last big chance to make a splash before ACC play. And with a brutal six-game stretch featuring games against Virginia, Miami, Florida State, Maryland and NC State up next, the Tar Heels needed a momentum boost in the biggest way. The proud fans in Chapel Hill can breathe, for now, and feel better about this season not mimicking a 2009-10 campaign that saw the Tar Heels follow up the Hansborough-Lawson-Green-Ellington supergroup with an NIT appearance.

Your Quick Hits….

  • Santa Clara Tests Duke. It is a fundamental truism of the 2012-13 college hoops season that Gonzaga will win the West Coast Conference. In fact, I’m willing to go ahead and bet the Zags will have created enough distance from other challengers by February 1 to have rendered the word “race” completely and utterly moot. The rest of the league is far less certain. St. Mary’s is the logical favorite to claim the No. 2 spot. Loyola Marymount is always a tough out. And you can never discount BYU and the daunting road trip that is Provo, Utah. Time to insert a new name in the conversation: Santa Clara. The Broncos went into Cameron Indoor Saturday night and put a scare into the No. 1 Blue Devils, their upset bid powered by 29 points from senior guard Kevin Foster. That’s the kind of confidence-building performance that pays dividends in conference play, when you can rest assured Santa Clara will ride into any road environment exuding confidence and poise.
  • Ollie Gets First Win With New Job Title. Hours before Cincinnati’s Saturday night tipoff with visiting Washington, ESPN’s Andy Katz reported UConn had signed Kevin Ollie to a five-year contract extension, thus eliminating the interim tag and granting the long-term security most believed Ollie had earned after leading the Huskies to a 9-2 start and creating a smooth transitory bridge from Jim Calhoun’s fiery coaching style to a new era of UConn basketball. Losing your first game after receiving a big financial commitment from AD Warde Manuel would have been a bad look. The Huskies’ talented backcourt trio of Shabazz Napier, Omar Calhoun and Ryan Boatwright ensured their new coach had a win to back up his new job title, with each posting double-figure scoring totals in an eight-point victory over Washington. UConn may not have postseason motivations on its side, but what it does have, thanks to Saturday’s extension, is a huge incentive to help lay the foundation for Ollie’s tenure and a return to national relevance. Read the rest of this entry »
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