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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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on December 24th, 2012

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

Looking Back

  • Whither success? As of last Tuesday (December 18) things were looking bright for the WCC in its annual power struggle against the other non-power conferences. The conference record of 60-31 added up to a .659 winning percentage and only one member, Portland, had a losing record (4-6). Things took a downward turn with last week’s games, as the WCC went 7-10 and dropped the winning percentage to .606. The biggest contributor to the downturn was San Francisco, which dropped three-out-of-three to go under .500 (5-6) for the first time this season. Loyola Marymount (5-6) and San Diego were also underwater as of yesterday. Conference leaders Gonzaga (11-1), Santa Clara (11-2), Saint Mary’s (8-3) and BYU (8-4) were leading the way, while Pepperdine remains the surprise team with a 7-5 record.
    The conference took a bit of a hit nationally last week, but Kerry Keating's Santa Clara squad keeps trucking along (Getty)

    The conference took a bit of a hit nationally last week, but Kerry Keating’s Santa Clara squad keeps trucking along (Getty)

  • Stat Attack: Conference statistics through December 18 reflected team performances, with Gonzaga leading in scoring margin (+20.9), scoring defense (59.8 PPG) and field goal percentage (52.0%). Saint Mary’s, largely on the strength of its 120-67 blowout of Jackson State, led in scoring offense – 81.3 PPG to Gonzaga’s 80.8 PPG – and the Gaels also topped the league in free throw percentage (78.7%) and three-point field goal percentage (41.0%). How is Santa Clara sustaining its consistent preseason performance? Partly by leading in four categories: assists (18.0 per game), steals (9.4 per game), turnover margin (+7.0 per game) and assist/turnover ratio (198 assists to 121 turnovers, for a 1.6 ratio). Loyola point guard Anthony Ireland continues to lead the league in scoring with 20.7 PPG, followed by Tyler Haws of BYU at 20.3 PPG, Kevin Foster of Santa Clara at 20.2 PPG, Matthew Dellavedova of Saint Mary’s at 19.5 PPG and Brandon Davies of BYU at 19.2 PPG. The most impressive individual stat in the early going is San Francisco forward Cole Dickerson’s 13.1 rebounds per game, which places him among the nation’s leaders.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (11-1): The Zags stayed home and took it easy last week, cruising to a 74-52 win over the Campbell University Fighting Camels out of the Big South Conference.
  2. Santa Clara (11-2): Santa Clara’s redemption tour continues unabated, as the Broncos knocked off Alcorn State and Wagner last week to win its own Cable Car Classic. Read the rest of this entry »
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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on December 17th, 2012

Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.

Looking Back

Bye-bye Gonzaga? Shuffling through the barrage of reports, rumors, and guesses that emerged from the defection of the Catholic Seven from the Big East Conference, one could conclude that:

  1. Gonzaga might join a new alliance of those seven plus some other basketball-only schools to form a new super-conference.
  2. Saint Mary’s might also join the party.
  3. Neither Gonzaga nor Saint Mary’s were ever in the plans of the Seven.
  4. That the WCC already has what the Catholic Seven are seeking: a mostly homogeneous group of geographically contiguous schools with a common academic philosophy and a commitment to quality basketball.

Involving the WCC in the Big East blow-up was mostly the work of Gonzaga coach Mark Few and his ever-reliable mouthpiece, Andy Katz of ESPN. Katz reported last Wednesday (December 12), before the seven departing schools had announced a decision, that, “Sources say the Zags would love to part with the West Coast Conference and be a member of a national, branded basketball conference… the Zags are looking out for themselves and would like to be positioned with fellow national Catholic-based schools instead of regional ones in the WCC.”

Is Gonzaga going to jump ship? Only time will tell (AP)

Is Gonzaga going to jump ship? Only time will tell (AP)

No one familiar with Few’s musings a few weeks ago was worried about what would happen to Gonzaga in the case of a BCS/everybody else-type split in the college basketball ranks had any doubts who Katz’s source was. And it is safe to say that no one else belonging to or friendly with the WCC appreciated Few’s willingness to throw the conference under the bus on the basis of some unfounded worries about an imminent basketball schism.

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CIO… the West Coast Conference

Posted by rtmsf on December 11th, 2012

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

Top Storylines

  • Zags supreme? The steady rumble of Gonzaga media support reached a higher pitch than usual this preseason, perhaps fueled by the Zags’ strong showing in the NCAA Tournament last March (dispatching West Virginia 77-54 and taking Ohio State to the wire before succumbing 73-66). With everyone back and anticipation building over incoming 7’1″ freshman Przemek Karnowski, the Zags’ success this year seemed foreordained. And their fast start, humbling West Virginia for the second time in eight months, 84-50, and roaring through the Old Spice Classic with wins over Clemson, Oklahoma and Davidson, amped up the volume. By the time Gonzaga faced Illinois last Saturday in Spokane, it was off to its best start in school history at 9-0 and ranked #10 in the AP poll. The Illini, however, under new coach John Groce, have dreams of their own, and were also riding an undefeated start (9-0) and high AP ranking (#13). Illinois spanked the Zags 85-74, temporarily derailing the express train to the Final Four, but didn’t dislodge Gonzaga from the top spot in the preseason WCC poll.

    What else is new? Mark Few has his Gonzaga squad playing at a high level (AP)

  • Welcome back, Traz and Kevin: If ever a team was glad to get back two stars temporarily sidelined, it was Santa Clara and seniors Marc Trasolini and Kevin Foster. Without Trasolini out of action all last year because of a knee injury, and without Foster for the last eight conference games following a drunken driving arrest, the Broncos stumbled to a humiliating 0-16 record in the WCC. Things are looking up for Kerry Keating’s Broncos this year, thanks to a heavy dose of Foster and Trasolini. Foster was named WCC Player of the Month for November after averaging 21.7 points per game, moving past Kurt Rambis to become Santa Clara’s all-time leading scorer and moving to third-place in WCC history for made three-point baskets. Trasolini has also been stellar, averaging nearly 15 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as Santa Clara fights back toward respectability.
  • Cousy for Delly? Saint Mary’s Matthew Dellavedova was among the final five candidates for last year’s Bob Cousy Award given to the nation’s outstanding point guard (North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall won the award in 2011-12) and has been nominated again this year. Can Delly buck the headwinds from players from larger conferences (e.g., Aaron Craft of Ohio State, Phil Pressey of Missouri, Peyton Siva of Louisville) and capture the prize this year? He seems to be building the type of season that would make a great case for it, leading the Gaels in scoring with 18.4 points per game and dishing out 5.6 assists per game, but his non-statistical contributions are even more compelling. Without muscular Rob Jones in the Gaels’ lineup this year, Dellavedova has shouldered both the scoring and leadership roles, twice scoring more than 30 points (32 in a win over Drexel, and 31 in a win against Drake) and holding his team together until newcomer Matt Hodgson settles in on the front line. A lot may depend on how well Saint Mary’s does in the postseason, and Delly will need some help if that is the deciding criterion.

Reader’s Take

 

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (9-1):Until they ventured into Pullman, Washington on December 5 for their first true road game of the year against Washington State, the Zags seemed to be building toward a dominating season. They let the pesky Cougars, who had already suffered a 58-56 loss to Pepperdine and were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12, tie them with 14 seconds left, however, and were saved by a last-minute layup by Kevin Pangos to pull out a 71-69 win. Things got worse three days later with the Illinois loss, but Gonzaga has shown intimidating depth on the front line with the rejuvenation of 7’0″ forward Kelly Olynyk, who redshirted last season to work on his game. Olynyk, interrupting teammate Sam Dower’s expected break out season, scored 22 points in the second half against Washington State and 16 against Illinois. The Zags face daunting opponents Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State in the coming weeks, which will either restore them as postseason favorites or dampen their luster heading into the WCC season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on November 16th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The second weekend in the college hoops season cools off a bit and settles into some of the preseason tournaments. While the different tourneys play out over the weekend, there are several games you should keep an eye on as we head into Feast Week. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Weekend

#22 Notre Dame vs. Saint Joseph’s – 9:30 PM EST, Friday on TruTV HD (****)

Notre Dame needs guard Eric Atkins to pick up his scoring against Saint Joseph’s

  • After a 2-0 start, Notre Dame faces its toughest challenge of the young season in a Saint Joseph’s team returning 99% of its minutes from last season. Thus far, the Irish is not getting the production they have come to expect from their two starting guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. Only Grant has reached double figures once in the two games they have played. Both players averaged 12 points per game last season and coach Mike Brey needs every bit of those 12 points for his Irish team to meet expectations. Since St. Joe’s will still be without suspended guard Carl Jones, look to see if the Irish guards are able to take advantage. It’s critical that they do, because Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley and center Garrick Sherman will face a tough test against the Hawks front line. It will be interesting to see how Cooley and Sherman respond to the much more athletic forwards than they have seen thus far in 2012.
  • While Saint Joseph’s blew out Yale in its first game of the season, Phil Martelli needs to be a little concerned with his team’s offensive performance. The Hawks averaged less than a point per possession, shot a 45.9% eFG, and were only 3-14 from three in that game. Obviously, missing leading scorer Jones is a major factor, but they can ill afford to have another poor offensive showing against the Irish. Look to see if guard Chris Wilson can improve on his three points in 36 minutes and provide St. Joe’s with some backcourt scoring. Guard Langston Galloway was able to drop 20 points against Yale, so keep an eye on his ability to maintain that level of scoring against a much tougher opponent.
  • This should be a close battle between two experienced teams. If St. Joe’s is going to beat Notre Dame, it’ll need to do it on defense.  The key will be the ability of St. Joe’s forwards Halil Kanacevic, Ronald Roberts, and C.J. Aiken to neutralize Cooley and Sherman down low and grab defensive boards. If Notre Dame gets its  typical scoring production from Atkins and Grant, it should win this game. If not, Martelli and the Hawks will come away with a nice win for the Atlantic 10 against its rival Big East.

More Great Hoops

Florida State vs. BYU – 7:00 PM EST, Friday on TruTV HD (****)

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: West Coast Conference

Posted by CNguon on October 31st, 2012

Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the WCC. You can find him on Twitter at @mvern1

Top Storylines

  • 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.

Reader’s Take I


Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Saint Mary’s (14-2)
  2. Gonzaga (13-3)
  3. BYU (11-5)
  4. Loyola Marymount (10-6)
  5. San Diego (8-8)
  6. Santa Clara (7-9)
  7. Portland (4-12)
  8. San Francisco (3-13)
  9. Pepperdine (2-14)

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Morning Five: 07.06.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 6th, 2012

  1. It’s been an exceptionally quiet news week in college basketball, but some legal-related information has come out this week that doesn’t involve health care hype and hysteria. In response to the Bernie Fine scandal at Syracuse that broke last November, a Board of Trustees report released on Thursday found that Syracuse officials acted promptly when allegations against Fine were first reported to them in 2005, but they did not go far enough in reporting the information to law enforcement officials. This inaction, which included the possibility that if the allegations “turned out to be true, then the failure to have approached law enforcement at best exposed the university to harsh criticism, and at worst allowed a child molester to remain in place in the community without being called to account.” There’s a lot more detail in the story linked above, but the one thing we can all agree on is that we’re not alone in hoping the truth comes out on this story soon.
  2. Moving to a story that we hope is finally over for good, the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati ruled on Thursday that attorneys for convicted Rick Pitino extortionist Karen Sypheradvanced no arguments of merit on appeal” in her latest attempt to have her prison sentence overturned. Her arguments centered on whether she received a fair trial given the significant amount of publicity that the case engendered, but according to the three-judge panel, she failed to provide evidence that she had in fact received an unfair trial. Sypher will no doubt continue appealing the various federal courts on the basis of any number of frivolous constitutional claims, but her sentence goes through 2017 so she has plenty of time to figure out next steps. Who knows — maybe America’s least favorite justice, John Roberts, will have a chance to rule on Ms. Sypher somewhere down the line.
  3. It’s not a ruling from the legal world, but the NCAA fashions itself as judge, jury, and executioner anyway, so we’ll continue this theme. Just prior to the start of the July recruiting evaluation period next week, the NCAA barred four AAU ‘travel teams’ from involvement in its sanctioned events because of a “prohibited association” between three administrators and a coach with an agent named Andy Miller. Miller apparently sent an e-mail to the four men pushing and cajoling them to live up to their obligations in getting players to the NBA, and the NCAA somehow caught wind of it. The players on these four teams — the New England Playaz, Worldwide Renegades, Florida Rams, and SEBL Elite — are not prohibited from jumping to other teams in order to play in the events, but they’ll have to hustle to find openings over the weekend. Our stance on summer AAU basketball is well-established, but this is just another example of why it needs a major NCAA-led overhaul.
  4. One of the unique quirks of BYU basketball is that most of us sometimes forget that they have good players stashed away on missions overseas while the rest of college basketball is constantly trying to reload its talent base — it’s almost like a basketball safety valve of sorts. BYU rising sophomore Tyler Haws is one such example, having spent the last two years in the Philippines after a promising freshman season where he averaged 11/4 and shot 50% from the field. One of the peculiarities of Haws returning to NCAA basketball is that he is an exceptional free throw shooter, hitting 91.5% of his attempts in 2009-10. He is also the current owner of a streak of 48 makes in a row, putting him a little more than halfway to the NCAA Division I record held by Butler’s Darnell Archey from 2000-03. With a lot of downtime on his mission in basketball-crazy Philippines, maybe Haws used some of it to perfect his stroke to make a run at the record.
  5. From a player returning to college hoops after a two-year layoff to a head coach doing so after 24 years, Larry Brown is getting his legs under him at SMU this summer. In a recent interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal, the only coach to have ever won both a national title (Kansas) and an NBA title (Detroit Pistons) explained that: a) he wouldn’t have been offered the SMU job had Maryland’s Mark Turgeon not initially floated his name out there; b) top assistant Tim Jankovich approached Brown about leaving potentially his best team at Illinois State; and c) he doesn’t care much for the games themselves, rather preferring the teaching aspect of practices. This experiment at SMU is certainly going to make for an interesting storyline the next couple of seasons — we’d hate to suggest that a head coach with an all-time record of 177-61 (.744) in college might struggle, but his previous stops at UCLA and Kansas are much different animals than what they have down in the north side of Dallas.
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Mountain West Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2011

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West conference. With the MWC tourney tipping off Wednesday, get set with RTC’s regular season wrap-up and tournament preview.

MWC Wrap-Up

For the top four seeds, the MWC Tournament is of great importance, with Colorado State the team with the most on the line. The Rams sit firmly on the bubble for an NCAA at-large invitation, and while winning the whole thing and the automatic bid that goes along with it would be their best bet, prevailing wisdom indicates that if they can take care of New Mexico in the quarterfinals and then upset BYU in the semifinals, Tim Miles’ club will have gone a long way towards punching its ticket. Meanwhile, for the top-seeded Cougars, they’ve still got some things to prove. In the wake of last week’s dismissal of its best interior player, Brandon Davies, for a BYU honor code violation, the Cougars hopes of possibly earning a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament have disappeared. However, where they will wind up seeded remains a real question – a good showing in the MWC Tournament and a run to the championship could still earn them a #2 seed, while an early exit could confirm the doubts of the NCAA Selection Committee and relegate them to a #3 or even a #4 seed. For San Diego State, they’ve still got plenty to prove as well. Their best wins on the season are over Gonzaga, St. Mary’s and a season-sweep of UNLV – good wins, but certainly not great. However, if SDSU can add another win over UNLV and get the BYU monkey off of its back, it could prove its credentials as a possible #2 seed. And then there’s UNLV, a team that has had a roller coaster ride of an offseason. If they can defend their homecourt in the conference tournament and come away with an MWC title, they could wind up as high as a #6 seed (assuming they knock off SDSU and BYU along the way), while an earlier exit could relegate them to a #9 or so. For seeds five through nine in the MWC Tournament, the stakes are clear: win the title or consider your options for the “other” postseason tournaments. New Mexico has a good shot at an NIT bid, should they fail to win three games in Las Vegas, while the rest of the bottom five seeds will determine whether to call it quits or consider possible invitations from the CBI or CIT.

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RTC Conference Primers: #8 – Mountain West Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 29th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. San Diego State (13-3)
  2. BYU (12-4)
  3. New Mexico (11-5)
  4. UNLV (11-5)
  5. Colorado State (9-7)
  6. Wyoming (6-10)
  7. Utah (6-10)
  8. TCU (3-13)
  9. Air Force (1-15)

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G: Jimmer Fredette, Sr, BYU (22.1 PPG, 4.7 APG)
  • G: Dairese Gary, Sr, New Mexico (13.1 PPG, 3.9 APG)
  • G: Tre’Von Willis, Sr, UNLV (17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Afam Muojeke, Jr, Wyoming (16.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
  • F: Kawhi Leonard, Soph, San Diego State (12.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG)

6th Man

Billy White, Sr, San Diego State (11.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG)

If you aren't already, get used to seeing and hearing about Jimmer Fredette.

Impact Newcomer

Drew Gordon, Jr, New Mexico – Gordon left UCLA midway through the Bruins awful season last year after never meshing with Ben Howland and his system, and as a result, he won’t be eligible for Steve Alford until after the first semester. But Gordon showed enough talent in his years in Westwood that he will be a welcome addition for what was an undersized Lobo team last season. However, Gordon did tear the meniscus in his right knee in mid-October and, although he is not expected to miss any game action, he may miss out on valuable practice time leading up to his expected December 17 debut.

What You Need to Know

  • Best In The West? Given the Mountain West’s history as a contender for the title of the top non-BCS conference in the nation, and given that the Pac-10 is at its lowest point in memory, it’s quite possible that, at least for 2010-11, the MWC may be the best conference in the West. Last season, four MWC teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament, and in just over a decade of existence, only once has the MWC failed to place more than one team to the Big Dance (2000-01). However, major changes are afoot in the conference, as Utah and BYU, both consistently strong basketball forces, will be leaving for the Pac-10 and WCC, respectively. Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada will join the conference, but while those teams are capable of putting together strong seasons (Nevada, in particular, has  recent success on the court), they’ll be hard-pressed to replace the production of the two Utah schools.
  • Familiar Faces: When you look around the conference this season, there will be a lot of veterans up and down the rosters, as 70% of the players that averaged more than five points per game last season return. Only Utah, of the nine conference teams, will look drastically different, as they lost two starters to graduation, a third starter to transfer, and five additional bench players to transfers as well. Bolstering the general experience around the league is a flood of incoming transfers: Drew Gordon and Emmanuel Negedu at New Mexico, Quintrell Thomas at UNLV, Hank Thorns at TCU, Wes Eikemeier at Colorado State and James Rahon at San Diego State. Not only will there be a lot of recognizable players on the court, there continues to be a lot of stability on the sidelines, as for the second consecutive year, every head coach in the MWC returns.
  • Non-conference Boost: Last season seemed to mark the first year of a new era in non-conference scheduling in the MWC. After earning a reputation as a conference whose teams would play consistently tough games, they slipped out of the top 20 in non-conference strength of schedule for a stretch from the 2006-07 season through the 2008-09 season. However, last year, the MWC addressed this in several ways. First and foremost, their teams were able to go out and get games against Pac-10 and Big 12 competition, but they were also able to get their teams in some good early-season tournaments, and they began the MWC/MVC Challenge, guaranteeing every team in the conference a matchup with a team from the Missouri Valley. That MWC/MVC Challenge will continue (the two conferences signed a four-year agreement), as will the involvement of conference teams in early-season tournaments (for instance, New Mexico plays in the Las Vegas Classic, UNLV in the 76 Classic, Colorado State in the Cancun Governor’s Cup, BYU in the South Padre Island Classic, Utah in the Diamondhead Classic, Wyoming in the Cancun Classic and San Diego State in the CBE Classic – and yes, the people that run these tournaments need to consult a thesaurus for an alternative to “Classic”). Additionally, the tougher non-conference scheduling continues, with conference schools making trips to places like Spokane, Berkeley, Logan, Ann Arbor, El Paso, Dayton, Tulsa, Louisville and Kansas City over the course of the non-conference slate.

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RTC Region by Region Tidbits: 03.21.10

Posted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

East Region Notes (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

  • Kentucky performed as a top seed should, winning convincingly, building momentum and taking confidence to Syracuse. Ashley Judd isn’t the only star fan, Grammy-nominated rapper Drake was at Saturday’s game and gave hi-fives to the Kentucky coaches.
  • Cornell is going to its first ever Sweet 16 after exposing Wisconsin in a 18-point victory. Meanwhile, the Big Red feel like they belong and will be playing their regional semifinal game just under 60 miles away from campus.
  • Washington continued its improbable run into the Sweet 16 Saturday. The Huskies are coming together as the East Region bracket falls apart, playing their best basketball in a long time. The Seattle Times is asking… why can’t the Huskies continue this run?
  • West Virginia handled the pressure and Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant got redemption in their win over Missouri. Mazzulla showed heart in the Sunday win, the Charleston Gazette says.

West Region Notes (Andrew Murawa)

  • Butler has advanced to their third Sweet 16 in eight years, and while they will be a big underdog to Syracuse on Thursday, they’ve shed the Cinderella label.
  • Xavier, on the other hand, is one of just two programs in the country to achieve the Sweet 16 in each of the past three years (the other being Michigan State), and they’ve got a label they aren’t too big on either: “mid-major”.
  • A day after the BYU season ended, head coach Dave Rose still thinks his Cougars had a “special season.” They will lose seniors Jonathan Tavernari and Chris Miles to graduation and freshman Tyler Haws will head off on his two-year Mormon mission, but they also have two kids returning from missions and expect to be a strong contender in the MWC again next season.
  • Murray State also heads into their offseason feeling pretty good about their accomplishments, and with only two key contributors graduating and freshman forward Ed Daniel looking ready to be an Ohio Valley Conference star, head coach Billy Kennedy feels pretty good about the future of the program.
  • And, finally, while it is never too early to get an Arinze Onuaku update (still somewhere between questionable and unlikely for Syracuse vs. Butler on Thursday), Wesley Johnson offered up a pretty good assessment of his hand injury with his play on Sunday.

Midwest Region Notes (Tom Hager)

  • It may be surprising to hear from Ali Farokhmanesh, but the gutsy shooter claims that open looks are sometimes the harder shots to make, as a shooter has too much time to think.
  • According to Tom Izzo, the odds of Kalin Lucas having a torn ACL are around 85%.  If that is the case, his season is likely over.
  • When Tennessee and Ohio State will meet, it will be a rematch of their 2007 tournament game, in which the Volunteers led by 17 and OSU needed a Greg Oden block at the buzzer to save a one point lead.
  • Kansas coach Bill Self asserts that Northern Iowa shouldn’t be surprising the country as much as they are, claiming that the Panthers are not Cinderella.
  • According to Fox News, the NCAA needs Evan Turner, who can provide the closest substitute to the highly anticipated Kansas vs. Kentucky matchup.  If both Kentucky and Ohio State advance to the Final Four, they would not meet until the title game.
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More Notes From the Mountain West and WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, they will both post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for last night’s semifinals.

Mountain West Semis

  • The difference between these four teams when they are playing at their peak is not a whole lot. New Mexico and BYU have been more consistent over the course of the season, but all four of these teams are highly talented and very evenly matched.
  • Even before tonight I felt pretty fortunate to have picked the MWC out of the hat to cover this year. After tonight, the MWC could start a new religion and I would be the first convert.
  • I overheard Danny Ainge talking with Steve Lappas during the break between games say that this iteration of this tournament was as good as any in the country over the last few years. At this point, I’m not inclined to disagree.

San Diego State 72, New Mexico 69.

  • Darington Hobson was the MWC Player of the Year, but San Diego State took some advantage of him defensively, especially in the first half when he was unable to control either Kawhi Leonard or Billy White. Further, in the postgame press conference, Aztec point guard D.J. Gay seemed to imply that they were more concerned about Dairese Gary than they were about Hobson, saying that they in the last sequence they were trying to force Gary to give the ball up to Hobson.
  • Speaking of Gary, when the Lobos found themselves down 11 early, it was he who sparked the team’s run back to eventually take the lead in the first half. But as important as Gary is to the Lobos hopes, it is the combination of Gary and Hobson, each of whom have point skills, that make the Lobos so tough.
  • Kawhi Leonard was the MWC Freshman of the Year, a first-team All-MWC selection and my choice as the MWC Defensive Player of the Year, and yet he is only beginning to scratch the surface of his talent. Tonight he added three threes (after shooting just 19% from three on the season), took on Hobson one-on-one defensively, and yanked down 12 rebounds, including a serious man’s rebound in the final seconds, just before knocking down two free throws to extend the final margin.
  • It was apparent in the postgame press conference just how much coach Steve Fisher loves his squad. At times it seemed like he almost had to control himself from gushing over his squad. Check this: “I told our team at halftime, this is big-time, high-level major college basketball. We played about as well as we can play and we’re one point behind. That’s what they’re telling their team, that San Diego State can’t play better. But we can. We have to. And we did.” And, on D.J. Gay: “I said to our team and the media that I thought D.J. Gay was our most important player. He had seven assists, no turnovers. Guards like crazy. Helps everybody else out and wins.” On Billy White: “He’s a really talented player and a terrific young guy. So I’m proud. I’m so happy for Billy today to have him come home and play as well as he did. He was sensational. When we went out before the game, I grabbed him and told him ‘Make your mom proud.’ Afterward I said, ‘You made everyone proud.’”
  • San Diego State’s freshman guard Chase Tapley and New Mexico’s sophomore post A.J. Hardeman may not get all the press that some of their teammates get, but both had key contributions. Hardeman wound up with 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, while Tapley, playing with a broken left hand which has cost him his starting position, knocked down three of his four attempts from three-point range.

UNLV 70, BYU 66.

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Mountain West Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.  He will be reporting from the MWC Tournament throughout the weekend.

Final Standings

  1. New Mexico     (28-3, 14-2)
  2. BYU      (28-4, 13-3)
  3. UNLV     (23-7, 11-5)
  4. San Diego State      (22-8, 11-5)
  5. Colorado State      (16-14, 7-9)
  6. Utah       (14-16 , 7-9)
  7. TCU        (13-18, 5-11)
  8. Wyoming       (10-20, 3-13)
  9. Air Force         (9-20, 1-15)               

Superlatives

  • Player of the Year. Darington Hobson, Jr, New Mexico. In my MWC preview at the start of the year, the name Darington Hobson didn’t appear once. But, after a week or so of play, he was my first Player of the Week, an honor he went on to win four times over the course of the season. He broke onto the scene in the Lobos first game against UC Riverside with 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists, the type of jam-packed stat sheet that came to be expected of him over the season, as he averaged 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists throughout. While not a pure shooter by any means, he averaged a little over a three per game (at a 38% clip), turned into a capable manager of the offense (despite averaging three turnovers a game) and was able to defend bigger players as well as match up with a smaller, quicker guards when necessary. With another year ahead of him in Albuquerque, Hobson’s not done being a force in the MWC.
  • Newcomer of the Year. Hobson. If he’s the Player of the Year, and he’s also a newcomer, it stands to reason he’s also the Newcomer of the Year.
  • Coach of the Year. Steve Alford, New Mexico. Sure, there was that embarrassing incident with Jonathan Tavernari at the end of the year. And sure, if this was even a little bit of a close call, I’d be throwing this thing Dave Rose’s way. But Alford took a team that lost its three leading scorers last year and rebuilt on the fly, getting solid contributions from nine different players as the Lobos ran out to a 14-1 record in the non-conference and vaulting into the top 25. However, a rough start to the MWC schedule had the Lobos 0-2 after losses at San Diego State and at home to UNLV. But Alford had his team turn it around to the tune of 14 straight wins to close out the regular season, giving the Lobos a strong argument in favor of a lofty NCAA seed. And if all that isn’t impressive enough, he did this all with only one senior on the roster (forward Roman Martinez), meaning the Lobos aren’t done howling around the top of the MWC standings.
  • Freshman of the Year. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State. Leonard came into the season as the most highly regarded freshman in the conference, and one of the most highly sought after recruits to sign in the MWC in years. While it took Leonard a bit of time to get truly comfortable in head coach Steve Fisher’s system, by mid-December he was dropping lines like 23/18 on Cal State Fullerton. But it wasn’t really until conference play that Leonard was fully comfortable displaying all his skills. Sure, he was a great athletic rebounder (who led the conference in rebounding with almost 10 rebounds a game), sure he could finish above the rim, but as conference play wore on you saw him bring the ball up court against pressure, take the defensive challenge against opponents as diverse as UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis and New Mexico’s Martinez and Hobson, develop a face-up game and turn into a leader in the Aztec huddle. And, as is a common theme that will re-occur around the league, he is one of at least eight contributors on the SDSU team that are expected to return next season.
  • Defensive Player of the Year. Leonard. Conventional wisdom has this award going to Utah’s 7’3” behemoth David Foster, who did reject his foes 113 times (4.0 blocks per game) this season. But as impressive as those numbers were, Foster wasn’t particularly good on the defensive glass and was immobile enough against quicker fours and fives in the MWC to have been a liability at times. Instead, I’m going to go with the more versatile Leonard who guarded his share of fours and fives over the season, while also taking his cracks at guys like Willis (who he was partially responsible for holding to 11-30 shooting in the Aztecs’ two games with the Rebels). Leonard also added 39 steals and 20 blocks while consistently pairing with junior Malcolm Thomas to clean the defensive glass for the Aztecs

All MWC First Team

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