Both Saint Mary’s and San Francisco will be invited to participate in one of the other national postseason tournaments, but while their seasons may not be officially over, Monday night brought a close to any improbable NCAA Tournament dreams. Saint Mary’s was routed (again) by Gonzaga in one WCC semifinal, while San Francisco came up a play or two short versus BYU in the other, ultimately falling to Tyler Haws and the Cougars in overtime, 79-77. There are plenty of similarities on a paper resume between SMC and USF this season (both have RPIs in the 60s and 11 losses each), but that resemblance belies the current state of affairs of Bay Area WCC hoops. It would seem that Monday’s mode of exit is a far better illustration of where these two programs currently sit – and where they are headed. The young Dons appear ready to compete like they did in Vegas (and really, all season) on a consistent basis moving forward, but for their neighbors acros the San Francisco Bay in Moraga, the future may not be as bright. The talent pool has dried up for Randy Bennett and the Gaels, and the proudest era in Saint Mary’s basketball history could be on the verge of extinction.
Stephen Holt’s Departure Will Make Like More Difficult For Randy Bennett And The Gaels Next Season. Is The Golden Era Of Saint Mary’s Basketball Nearly Finished?
We’ll take the good news before the bad and discuss USF first. Progress has been slow since Rex Walters arrived in 2008, but the Dons have increased their win total in every season except 2012-13 under the former NBA journeyman and former Jayhawk. Incremental growth ran a bit faster this season, as Walters’ team really began showing signs of life. The Dons went 13-5 in a WCC that finished ninth in conference RPI, and are set to return their entire rotation next season save for leading scorer Cole Dickerson. Dickerson’s crafty offensive game will surely be missed in 2014-15, but expectations should justly be enhanced with the Dons returning so much proven talent.
After winning back-to-back national titles in the 50s with two of the greatest players in basketball history leading the way, USF has made the NCAA Tournament just one time in the past three decades, and the last Don to play in the NBA retired more than 20 years ago. It’s been a long, confusing dry spell for a tradition-laden program, indeed. There isn’t any NBA talent on this USF roster (or next year’s, most likely), but as the program ascends the ranks of the WCC standings, the NCAA Tournament should again be within reach for Walters’ team. That statement alone constitutes progress, but anyone who caught a glimpse of this San Francisco team – either on Monday night or throughout its 13-win conference campaign – could tell you that things are looking up in the City by the Bay.
Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.
The scramble for second place in the WCC continued unabated last week, as Saint Mary’s and BYU held off defeats that would have made any conference title dreams impossible. As things stand now, they’re only just unrealistic. San Francisco and Pepperdine, two other teams harboring dreams for a lofty finish, stumbled.
Stephen Holt (right) had an outstanding week for the Gaels. (SMC Athletics)
Gonzaga’s three-game lead in the loss column over BYU and Saint Mary’s seems impregnable, but the schedule-makers have done the Zags no favors. After entertaining Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount at home this week, Gonzaga hits the road for four season-ending games that could prove harrowing. BYU, San Diego and Saint Mary’s must be considered at least potential upset opportunities, and even Pacific has showed its Tiger teeth occasionally this season. What better way to salvage a disappointing return to the WCC than by knocking off the Zags? Read the rest of this entry »
After three days spent traversing the deserts of the Southwestern US, I arrived in sunny Southern California for a Saturday double-header of hoops. By my count, the greater Los Angeles lays claim to nine D-1 hoops programs, including one of the greatest of all-time in UCLA, but the city is hardly considered a college basketball hotbed. My appetizer for the day, Saint Mary’s vs. Pepperdine, didn’t figure to offer much in the way of evidence for a larger conception of LA-area college hoops, but the UCLA vs. USC nightcap seemed like the perfect ticket for gaining a sense of college basketball’s present and future in the City of Angels.
The Fieldhouse’s Parking Lot’s Courts (Replete With A Pacific Ocean Backdrop) May Have Been More Inviting Than Firestone Itself
Saturday afternoon clouds didn’t serve up Malibu in all of its glory, but Pepperdine’s cliff-side campus still possessed the power to stun the senses. Cozy Firestone Fieldhouse won’t soon be featured on any list of college hoops’ must-see venues, but I dare you to find a prettier backdrop for an arena exterior. I do not believe it exists. Moving inside, the sweeping views give way to a glorified high-school gym upon entrance to the fieldhouse, and if not for Jarron Collins’ imposing presence to my immediate left (doing color commentary for the WCC Game of the Week), I could have been tricked into believing I stumbled into a high-level high school game. Recent nights spent at The Pit and McKale Center didn’t help in de-emphasizing Firestone’s diminutive layout.
The First Round/Opening Round/Play-In Games/Mild Annoyance of the NCAA Tournament begins tonight, getting under way at 6:40 PM tonight on truTV (go ahead, try to remember where that channel is again). From 68 to 16 in the next six days… let’s analyze the first two games this evening.
#16 North Carolina A&T vs. #16 Liberty — Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 6:40 pm ET on truTV.
John Caleb Sanders Continuing His Hot-Shooting Ways Would Be A Huge Boost For The Flames In Dayton
Nothing says NCAA Tournament like a match-up between North Carolina A&T and Liberty now, does it? Like it or not, the First Four is the official tip-off for the Big Dance, and this year’s opening act pits the tournament champions from the MEAC against one of the unlikeliest Big Dance participants ever –- the 15-20 Liberty Flames. The Big South Champs aren’t the only party crashers here, however. Having entered the MEAC tournament under .500 and as the #7 seed, A&T was nearly as long a shot to make this field. The Aggies are easily the worst offensive team in this field of 68, choosing instead (a generous explanation) to hang their hat on the defensive end, where they rank 81st nationally in defensive efficiency. Springy senior Austin Witter is the key to the stingy defense, having blocked 11.8% of opponents two-point field goal attempts, the 16th highest rate in the country. Unfortunately for he and the Aggies, Liberty does most of their offensive work from beyond the arc and at the line. With guards John Caleb Sanders, Davon Marshall and Tavares Speaks all averaging at least 13.0 PPG, Liberty has proven to be a capable offensive unit, especially of late. The same praise cannot be afforded their defense, however, as LIU-Brooklyn is the only team in the field with a worse defensive efficiency rating than the Flames. So yes, it will be a titanic battle between Liberty’s 303d ranked defense and NC A&T’s 317th ranked offense. Ultimately though, I think the difference-making happens when Liberty has the ball. A&T’s tough defense notwithstanding, we like the Flames to continue their hot shooting and extend a postseason life that they could have never expected to have.
The RTC Certified Pick: Liberty
#11 Middle Tennessee vs. #11 Saint Mary’s — Midwest Region First Round (at Dayton, OH) — 9:10 pm ET on truTV.
If Middle Tennessee Has Anything To Say About It, Matthew Dellavedova Will Be Donning The Saint Mary’s Jersey For A Final Time Tuesday Night
The nightcap on Tuesday features two of the final teams to make the NCAA Tournament field, with Middle Tennessee and Saint Mary’s facing off for the chance to meet Memphis on Thursday in Auburn Hills. The Gaels are no strangers to the big stage, as Matthew Dellavedova and company are making their third appearance in the last four years. Saint Mary’s shoots the ball both well and often from deep. The Gaels convert on 37% of their tries from distance, with those points accounting for nearly a third of their total points scored this season. Dellavedova is the leading scorer and unquestioned leader of this bunch, but Stephen Holt and Beau Levesque are both double-figure scorers capable of carrying the offensive load for a night. Middle Tennessee is not a bad offensive team in its own right (73rd nationally in offensive efficiency), but Kermit Davis has concocted a decidedly different recipe for success. Do not be surprised if you see 11 different Blue Raiders touch the floor on Tuesday night, and among that group are seven players who average at least six points a contest, with just one (Marcos Knight at 12.5 PPG) in double-figures. The Middle Tennessee depth is clearly impressive, and it has also helped the Blue Raiders on the defensive end. Middle Tennessee is 20th nationally in defensive efficiency, also ranking in the top-25 in a slew of important defensive categories. The most relevant of those metrics for its match-up with the Gaels is three-point percentage defense, where MTSU ranks 14th nationally, allowing just 29.5% shooting from behind the arc. It’s a particularly damning piece of evidence for believers in the Gaels, and the Middle Tennessee statistical profile would suggest that the Blue Raiders have more than just a fighting chance in this one. Call me a sucker for the sentimental story, but despite the aforementioned statistical evidence, I can’t pick against Saint Mary’s here. A brilliant career lives to see another day, as Dellavedova is the difference in what could be a thriller in Dayton.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
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, 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.
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.
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 »
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
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)
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.
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 »
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 »
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.
The mid-major hoops feast that is Bracketbuster weekend has arrived. It kicked off Friday night with VCU defeating Northern Iowa and Loyola Marymount following up their upset of St. Mary’s with a win over Horizon League leader Valparaiso. We previewed all of the televised Bracketbuster matchups when they were released, so we won’t rehash all the here. But we do regret that that the two biggest games on the schedule — Murray State v. St. Mary’s and Creighton v. Long Beach State — have lost a bit of their luster. The Racers saw their undefeated run end in less-than-gallant fashion, with a loss at home to Tennessee State, while the Gaels have dropped 2 of their last 3 games by a combined 29 points. Meanwhile, Creighton’s recent three-game skid, punctuated by a huge loss to Wichita State, has taken some of the sheen off of their otherwise stellar season. Still, these are all teams likely headed for the Big Dance, and today’s big games will give them a chance to re-ignite their season and build some momentum as they head towards March.
After the updated top 15, we recap five big games from the week that was, including a dramatic buzzer-beater. We also take a look at four tumultuous conference races and the two big non-Bracketbuster games to keep an eye on this week.
Looking Back: Five Key Results
George Mason 62, VCU 61 — This was a big game between two of the CAA’s three conference co-leaders, and it didn’t disappoint. Sherrod Wright won the game on a dramatic three-point buzzer beater. (See it for yourself, many times over, below.) The broader keys to Mason’s win were the two things that have sustained them all year — defense and forward Ryan Pearson. The Patriots held VCU to under 40% FG shooting, and Pearson led the team with 24 points and 11 rebounds.
Loyola Marymount 75, St. Mary’s 60 — Down 35-34 early in the second half, LMU went on a 13-2 run and never looked back, stunning the first-place Gaels with a 15-point defeat on their home floor. How did LMU pull off the upset? First, they managed to get to the line 27 times against a team that doesn’t usually give their opponent that many free throw attempts. Second, they contained St. Mary’s starting backcourt, holding Matthew Dellavedova, Jorden Page, and Stephen Holt to a combined 5-19 shooting, including a miserable 0-9 from three-point range. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Suddenly there is a fourth guest at the party. Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU had dominated WCC play in the pre-season and until the halfway point of the conference race, but last Thursday Loyola Marymount rudely interrupted their revels. An 82-68 thumping of BYU in a half-full Marriott Center in Provo sent notice that Max Good’s squad is healthy and hungry to compete for a top spot with the Big Three.
Good is enjoying the benefit of having star forwards Drew Viney (15.9 PPG) and AshleyHamilton (12.5 PPG) in the lineup at the same time, and is receiving outstanding point guard play from Anthony Ireland (15.9 PPG), who was good enough to win Player of the Week honors in the WCC. Ireland’s line in the LMU win over BYU and a subsequent 74-62 win over SantaClara was remarkably similar: 27 points and five assists against BYU, 25 points and five assists against Santa Clara. That earned him the Lou Henson Award for National Player of the Week from CollegeInsider.com in addition to the WCC honor.
The additional factor allowing LMU to separate from its opponents is contributions from other players besides its three leaders: LaRon Armstead, the rugged (6’5”, 200 lbs.) senior forward from Los Angeles, is averaging nine points per game and has been a big factor in the Lions’ success since he recovered from a concussion several games ago. Armstead moved into the Lions’ starting lineup for the first time against BYU and contributed 12 points and six rebounds. Another bruiser from Los Angeles, 6’7”, 240-lb sophomore forward Alex Osborne, has also come on strong lately, racking up nine rebounds and five points in 22 minutes against Santa Clara.
Drew Viney (34) and LMU Are Slowly Fighting Their Way Towards The Top Tier Of The WCC
Saint Mary’s (19-2, 8-0) quietly moved up in the national rankings last week, to #20 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll and #21 in the AP poll, thanks to steady wins over Pepperdine at home (61-47) and Santa Clara on the road (93-77) that gave the Gaels their best start in school history. Overshadowed by Ireland’s stellar week was Gaels’ point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who averaged 20 points and six assists in his team’s two wins, including a clinic in the high pick-and-roll against Santa Clara. Time and time again, Dellavedova cruised into the lane against the Broncos and either dropped in runners or found teammates Rob Jones or Brad Waldow for easy buckets. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.
Holding serve was the key note last week, as Saint Mary’s slapped down the second of its main competitors for the WCC title, Gonzaga, by a convincing 83-62 margin in Moraga. That followed the Gaels’ first-week trouncing of BYU by 98-82, also at home. Playing the cards dealt to them by an unbalanced conference schedule, the Gaels now have a one-game edge on both rivals before facing them on the road.
For Saint Mary’s, the nine-team schedule – reflecting the addition of BYU to the ranks – was front-loaded with rivals (and home court-loaded as well). Gonzaga and BYU, on the other hand, have yet to face each other and both had to travel to Moraga for their initial showdown with the Gaels. The WCC held on to its true round-robin form, however, so each team plays each other twice, meaning Gonzaga and BYU will have their shot at revenge. The Gaels travel to Provo on January 28 and to Gonzaga on February 9; BYU and Gonzaga tangle in Provo on February 2 and in Spokane on February 23.
Everything that has transpired in the first three weeks of conference play indicates that the league championship and seeding for the March 1-5 conference tournament in Las Vegas will be determined by those three teams.
Dellavedova and the Gaels Held Serve, Now What?
Saint Mary’s (17-2, 6-0): The key matchup in Thursday’s game with Gonzaga was supposed to be in the frontcourt, where the Zags’ trio of Robert Sacre, Sam Dower and Elias Harris was reputedly superior to the Gaels’ mixed bag of post players along with stalwart power forward Rob Jones. Sly ol’ Randy Bennett, however, had been tinkering with his post players throughout the pre-conference schedule and by league time had it figured out. The three-headed contingent of redshirt freshman Brad Waldow (6’9”), senior Kenton Walker II (6’9”) and junior Mitchell Young (6’8”) outscored and outrebounded Sacre and Dower by an overwhelming 31 points and 17 rebounds to 12 points and eight rebounds. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.
The Week That Was
Welcome to the wacky world of nine-team scheduling. WCC members knew some changes were coming with the addition of BYU to the league, but it has taken two weeks of conference play to absorb all that was required to make the odd-numbered format work. Here’s what the 2011-12 season has introduced:
Monday night games in addition to the regular Thursday-Saturday format
Asymmetrical scheduling, meaning teams play some opponents twice before playing others at all
Front-loaded key games for some, delayed timing of key games for others
For whatever reason, Saint Mary’s has seen most of the anomalies in the early-going: a Monday night game in the same week as a crucial showdown with Gonzaga; a home game against Pepperdine which will complete the Gaels’ schedule with the Waves before they play Loyola Marymount even once. And with Thursday’s tilt with Gonzaga, the Gaels will have hosted both of its two top rivals for the league championship (98-82 win over BYU on Dec. 29) while those teams have yet to play each other.
Pending the result of tonight’s crucial contest with Gonzaga, the Gaels have weathered the changes well. They had only one game last week, a clunky 78-72 victory over energized SanDiego at the Jenny Craig Pavilion, and dispatched San Francisco handily Monday night (87-72) in Moraga, thanks to a scorching 67.3% shooting performance, including 57.9% from three-point land. The Gaels were carried by WCC Player of the Week Rob Jones against San Diego (31 points, 12 rebounds) and by Matthew Dellavedova (27 points, four assists) against San Francisco.
Brandon Davies And BYU Are Ranked #3 In Our Latest Power Rankings (AP)
Saint Mary’s (15-2, 4-0 WCC)—is the first WCC team to play four games. The Gaels have overpowered both BYU and San Francisco at home, while struggling to contain San Diego’s freshman backcourt combination of Christopher Anderson (7.5 PPG/4.4 APG) and Johnny Dee (14.5 PPG) in the victory over the Toreros. The Gaels’ other win was a convincing 74-45 pasting of Pepperdine in Malibu. Jones (15.4 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 10 double-doubles) and Dellavedova (15.2 PPG, 6.5 APG) continue to lead the Gaels, with sophomore guard Stephen Holt (9.5 PPG, 3.5 APG) hovering around the double-figure mark in scoring. Holt, a dangerous defender at 6’4″ with quick hands, also leads the WCC with 34 steals on the season. Read the rest of this entry »