O26 Weekly Awards: Saint Louis, Billy Baron, David Carter & Portland

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 15th, 2014

Conference play was in full swing this week, offering up numerous monster performances, several sizable comebacks and just plain excellent basketball games (see: Akron vs. Ohio on Sunday night… seriously, watch the replay). Let’s get to it with some weekly awards for top O26 performers.

O26 Team of the Week

Dwayne Evans and the Billikens are our O26 Team of the Week. (Robert Leifheit Rob Leifheit-USA TODAY Sports)

Dwayne Evans and the Billikens are our O26 Team of the Week. (Robert Leifheit/USA TODAY Sports)

Saint Louis. With all due respect to UMass and VCU, last week showed why Saint Louis remains the team to beat in the A-10 until proven otherwise. The Billikens — with relatively little fanfare, despite jumping out to the school’s best start in 20 years — quietly tipped off conference play at Rhode Island on Tuesday night against a fast-improving Rams team fresh off an impressive win at LSU. It had all the makings of a trap game, with Saint Louis perhaps looking ahead to its looming clash against Dayton on Saturday. And sure enough, the Billikens almost fell into the trap; Dan Hurley’s group gave them all they could handle for a full 40 minutes. Trailing by a seemingly-insurmountable 11 points in the second half, the Rams mounted a 23-7 run to take a five-point lead with under nine to go, energizing the crowd and putting all the pressure on the occasionally-stagnant Saint Louis offense. It might have spelled trouble had Jordair Jett not been having the best offensive game of his career. But indeed he was, and the senior guard poured in 11 points in the game’s final nine minutes, knocking down a huge three and several key free throws to give the Billikens the one-point edge with a few ticks remaining before coming up with the game-clinching steal in the final moment. In all, the eventual conference player of the week finished with a career high 31 points and led his team to a 59-58 victory.

It was Saturday’s tilt with Dayton that was tabbed as a potential loss, with the offensively-proficient Flyers coming in as slight favorites at home according to KenPom. Saint Louis was having none of that, though. The Billikens took the lead midway through the first half and never let go, playing vintage, suffocating defense and finding enough patient looks offensively to coast to a 67-59 victory. It was the type of game we’ve seen so many times from this team: The opponent, ostensibly within reach, scraps and claws until it becomes clear that the Saint Louis defense simply will not let up — each player in position, rotating to their spots, aggressively defending the three point line — and a comeback is completely hopeless. Dwayne Evans led the charge offensively with a crisp 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Now 15-2 (2-0 A-10), the Billikens are ranked second overall in defensive efficiency, have crept into the AP Top 25 and again look well-equipped to make a run at the conference title, and perhaps more, by season’s end.

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 7th, 2014

Looking Back

Where’s the threat? Gonzaga was apparently in a fragile position as last week’s conference play ensued. Archrival Saint Mary’s was coming to town, and Zag starters’ Sam Dower and Gary Bell, Jr. were sidelined with injuries, Kevin Pangos continued to struggle with turf toe, and even gritty former walk-on David Stockton was said to be iffy because of the flu. Panic? Meltdown?

Despite a slew of setbacks, Mark Few and Gonzaga keep on chugging along. (Getty)

Despite a slew of setbacks, Mark Few and Gonzaga keep on chugging along. (Getty)

How about domination? The Zags simply throttled Saint Mary’s, holding the hot-shooting Gaels to a 32 percent field goal performance and a pathetic 1-of-12 from three-point range (supposedly the Gaels’ strength) on the way to a 73-51 romp. Zags’ sophomore Prezmek Karnowski not only got in Brad Waldow’s face, he apparently got in his mind, too, blocking seven shots and holding him to five points and three rebounds.

Gonzaga continued the week with an equally-dominant win over Pacific, 86-64, completing a four-game conference homestand at 4-0 and holding all four teams to fewer than 65 points. The Zags’ injuries? Turns out Dower is okay after injuring his hip against Kansas State; Stockton should contact the medical establishment about a cure for flu; and Pangos limped to 31 points in the two games, playing more than 30 minutes in each. Bell remains sidelined for at least another month with a broken hand, but former subs Drew Barham and Kyle Dranginis have stepped up admirably and the Zags seem strong enough to stay atop the WCC.

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (14-2, 4-0)
  2. Saint Mary’s (11-4, 2-1)
  3. Pepperdine (10-6, 3-1)
  4. San Francisco (10-6, 3-1)
  5. Loyola-Marymount (10-6, 2-2)
  6. Santa Clara (9-8, 2-2)
  7. BYU (9-7, 1-2)
  8. Portland (9-7, 1-3)
  9. Pacific (9-5, 0-3)
  10. San Diego (9-7, 0-3)

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Checking in on… the WCC

Posted by Michael Vernetti on November 21st, 2013

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

Reader’s Take

 

Looking Back

  • Not only has the WCC posted an impressive .811 winning percentage (30-7) through games of November 20, but also some of its members have shown the capacity to turn the conference race into an interesting exercise. Before losing a gritty 90-88 home game to #21 Iowa State on Wednesday, BYU looked particularly strong. The Cougars have been revitalized by the return of Kyle Collinsworth after a two-year mission and the emergence of 6’9″ freshman Erik Mica as a force in the paint that will make it easier to forget Brandon Davies. Those two, combined with sizzling early-season play by Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino, have helped BYU score at a 90-plus PPG clip and sweep of Weber State, Stanford (on the road) and a couple of cupcakes. The loss to rugged Iowa State from the top-ranked (in the early going) Big 12 Conference served as a reality check for the Cougars, and they will get another test against Texas on Monday in Kansas City, but Dave Rose appears to have the fast-moving, high-scoring team he is known for.
As usual, Dave Rose and BYU are off to a fast start. (AP)

As usual, Dave Rose and BYU are off to a fast start. (AP)

  • Saint Mary’s has done a lot to dispel those “What will we do without Matthew Dellavedova?” worries by posting a 4-0 record against strong competition. By cruising past Louisiana Tech, Akron and North Dakota State – all projected to be conference winners and go to the NCAA Tournament – the Gaels have done more than any other WCC team to boost the conference’s standing. Saint Mary’s slowed a little against Drake, not considered a force in the Missouri Valley Conference, but that 67-63 win might have been the residue of playing four games in the season’s first eight days. The Gaels’ early-season efforts put them at number three nationally in the Ratings Percentage Index (admittedly a small sample of games played), but, more importantly at 19th nationally in strength of schedule. The next closest WCC competitor is Pacific’s SOS at 65th nationally and Gonzaga’s one spot behind. Brad Waldow has been a beast in the paint for Saint Mary’s, posting two double-doubles and averaging 19.3 PPG and 8.3 RPG. Veteran guard Stephen Holt has proved Delly-like in his ability to find Waldow in good position to score, has posted a nearly three-to-one assist to turnover ratio (22 assists, eight turnovers) and is scoring at 12.3 PPG.

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The RTC Interview Series: One on One with Eric Reveno

Posted by WCarey on September 4th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

In a world of ever-evolving technology, Portland coach Eric Reveno is recognized as one of the leaders in bringing the use of technology to the world of college basketball. To paint you a portrait of Reveno’s use of technology and how the coach is viewed in the basketball community, here is a snippet of his biography on the Pilots’ website:

“Reveno, long recognized as a leader in the use of sports performance analysis technology, spoke in Sydney, Australia during the Fall of 2008 at a worldwide summit hosted by SportsTec, one of the foremost providers of video & technology solutions to the international sports community.  The cutting edge approach to technology has become a staple of the Pilot program in teaching, player development and recruiting.  As a result, Reveno was the lone representative from the United States asked to speak to an audience of performance professionals from some of the top sports leagues and organizations in the world.  Dave Telep, ESPN.com Senior Recruiting Analyst, said that, ‘Reveno is unofficially the most technologically advanced man we’ve met in college basketball. His new iPhone is wired up to the point where he’s got his recruiting database, clips of his offense, directions to gyms in Vegas AND his favorite Johnny Cash songs all in one.’”

After speaking with USC coach Andy Enfield, UCLA coach Steve Alford, and Butler coach Brandon Miller in the past few weeks, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with Portland coach Eric Reveno (@CoachReveno) about his use of technology, his career, and the rise of the Portland Pilots basketball program.

Rush the Court: Recently you tweeted about the opening of a Director of Basketball Technology position on your staff. What exactly does the position entail and how did such a position come about?

Eric Reveno's Use of Technology Sets Him Apart in a Static Coaching Business

Eric Reveno’s Use of Technology Sets Him Apart in a Static Coaching Business

Eric Reveno: The position really entails everything related to technology in our basketball program that we utilize to try to make us better. We use technology to help our players be the best they can be and our team be the best it can be. Our use of technology ranges from the obvious – video coordinating, video editing, statistical analysis – to the flat screen TV that we use as our Pilot Teaching Board. It serves as a video kiosk where players can come up and press different things to look at scouting reports, video edits, playbook stuff, and inspirational quotes. The position is essentially an IT person for the basketball office. It is a great entry-level position in-terms of getting involved in a basketball program, but a lot of what the job will be about is the technology. We want someone who is familiar and comfortable with what we use and how we use it. The position came about because we had a vision for a position that went beyond a usual video coordinator position. We gave the position a lofty title to help inspire greater things from the position.

RTC: What attributes are you looking for in a candidate to fill that position?

Reveno: Familiarity with sports technology and video editing software, comfort level and experience with Synergy software, experience in a college basketball program would be helpful, and knowledge of analytical statistics. We have received a good amount of interest and have 30 candidates that are all pretty intriguing for a variety of reasons. We have guys who have a passion for basketball with a background in analytics. We have guys who have been managers for college basketball programs, so they have some experience with video editing work. We have not really begun sorting the list of candidates out yet, but it is an impressive list of candidates right now.

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Gonzaga Needs Przemek Karnowski to “Break Out”

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 23rd, 2013

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

The sophomore breakout formula Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn has been using over the past few seasons to highlight players expected to dramatically improve in their second years is not like any old fuzzy, subjective, qualitative preseason guessing game. It is grounded in a precise statistical methodology, designed to identify players who evince star potential in limited sample sizes and, in turn, realize that potential over more minutes by putting up big numbers in the coming season. Here’s his explanation: “To qualify, a player cannot have averaged much more than 20 minutes per game as a freshman. But while he was on the floor, he had to use a go-to-guy’s share of his team’s offensive possessions (around 24 percent or higher) with a respectable level of efficiency (an ORating of at least 100.0, or one point per possession). The underlying theory, as first proposed byBasketball Prospectus, is that go-to-guys tend to act like it from the start of their careers, even in limited playing time. “Players who are not very involved in the offense,” Ken Pomeroy wrote for BP in 2007, “tend to stay that way.” Winn’s track record is terrific; most of the players he highlights make good on their breakout promise – from Malik Waayns at Villanova in 2010-11 to Terrell Stoglin at Maryland in 2011-12 to Andre Hollins at Minnesota last season.

A breakout season from Karnowski is exactly what Gonzaga needs to win another WCC championship (US Presswire).

This year’s No. 1 breakout candidate, according to Winn, is Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski. Last season, Karnowski averaged 5.7 points per game, posted a 102.5 offensive rating while using 27.0 percent of his team’s possessions, and logged 26.1 percent of available minutes. Karnowski’s minutes and shot opportunities are expected to increase next season – a fundamental criterion in Winn’s predictive method – largely because last season’s dominating frontcourt duo, Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk, are now playing in the NBA. The Zags need a dominating frontcourt presence to help make up for their lost production and Karnowski, a highly-touted international recruit last season, is the perfect candidate. Picking him as college basketball’s biggest breakout candidate doesn’t just pass the tempo-free smell test; it makes intuitive sense. Karnowski is in excellent position to make the proverbial sophomore leap.

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Morning Five: 08.22.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 22nd, 2013

morning5

  1. When you have the facts, pound the facts. When you have the law, pound the law. When you have neither, pound the table. The NCAA would do well to remember this old legal axiom as it enters a dangerous stage of its lawsuit over image and likeness rights collectively known as the Ed O’Bannon case. On Monday of this week, the organization requested a 15-month continuance of the opening date of the trial — currently scheduled for June 9, 2014 — in a shamelessly transparent attempt to solidify its position by distancing itself from one of its most embarrassing gaffes in the past few years. Jay Bilas, anyone? EA sports and Collegiate Licensing Co., co-defendants in the case along with the NCAA, interestingly enough only requested a five-month continuance for the start of the trial. The federal judge overseeing this lawsuit, Claudia Wilken, had requested that the defendants come to a mutual agreement on trial date by Monday, but their inability to come to simple terms on that question may only serve to anger her as she weighs a number of important motions on class certification and other items that will seriously impact the case.
  2. And the hits just keep on coming. Mere days after a social media-fueled firestorm over the NCAA’s initial decision (subsequently reversed) to deny former US Marine Steven Rhodes from walking on to play football this year for Middle Tennessee, another controversy has enveloped the organization over an eligibility question that strains the limits of common sense. As The Star-Ledger‘s Tom Liucci writes, Iowa State transfer Kerwin Okoro was recently denied a waiver to play for Rutgers in 2013-14 because his medical hardships — Okoro’s father and brother each passed away last winter — are not current. The rule on receiving a medical hardship waiver states that the player must show “medical documentation of a debilitating injury or illness to a student-athlete’s immediate family member that is debilitating and requires ongoing medical care,” technically precluding Okoro from the benefit. But how about some big picture common sense here? While it’s true that Okoro will not be required to care for his now-deceased relatives, there are other compelling reasons involving his family’s overall healing process that should also be considered in such a decision.
  3. We’ve long known that Division I college basketball players are some of the best all-around athletes in the world, what with the core components of elite “athleticism” — speed, agility, strength, flexibility, stamina — all very well-represented in our sport. Several athletes who perhaps weren’t skilled enough for professional basketball found their way into other athletic sports — we’re thinking about NFL tight ends such as Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates here — but, as The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg writes, a lesser-known version of football played in Australia is looking at college basketball as a nice pipeline to find its next generation of ruckmen. A what, you say? Well, a ruckman is someone in Australian Rules Football who is tasked with securing possession for his team after dead balls and scores through a modified jump ball situation. Who better than to fit that need for our friends Down Under than undersized big men with explosive hops and a knack for getting their hands on the ball. As the world becomes flatter in economics and sport, we imagine that we’ll start to hear more stories like these as the rest of the planet discovers just how athletic our basketball players — even those outside the NBA — actually are.
  4. One of the most discouraging stories of last offseason has resurfaced in a big way with the news on Wednesday that former Xavier-turned-Maryland guard Dez Wells, he of the rape allegations so absurd that the local prosecutor publicly stated they were “fundamentally unfair,” has decided to sue his old school for damage to his reputation and a good old-fashioned apology. In an environment where seemingly every semi-public figure claims that he will sue to protect his good name after getting blatantly caught telling bold-faced lies, it’s encouraging to see a situation where the justice system will be used to mete out some actual justice. Xavier expelled Wells from its school last summer, citing a decision made by its Conduct Board (and upheld on appeal) that predated the related criminal grand jury investigation; as a result, Wells has since suffered mightily from the school’s rush to judgment. That he’s bringing this case while he’s still playing NCAA basketball is rich with storyline possibilities — could he somehow face his legal adversary in a postseason match-up for the ages between the Terps and Musketeers? We can only hope…
  5. A lot of schedules have been releasing over the past couple of weeks, and the most notable in the last 24 hours were from a couple of conferences. First, the SEC released its conference-only schedule, featuring a bunch of mediocre teams that nobody pays attention to until February a solid balance of Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday night games with the standard Saturday smorgasbord but lacking the Kentucky-Tennessee battle in Knoxville that has produced so many great contests over the years. A special thank you goes out to Texas A&M and Missouri for that omission. On the other side of the continent, the WCC also released its conference schedule, which means that the only two games of true importance in this league — Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s, Acts I and II — should already be inked into your calendar (January 2 and March 1). Many more of these releases to come in the next few weeks.
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RTC Summer School: West Coast Conference

Posted by rtmsf on August 10th, 2012

Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the WCC.

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

Three Key Storylines

  • Ex-champs Fight Back. Gonzaga’s streak of 11 consecutive seasons with at least a share of the WCC crown came to an end last year as Saint Mary’s won both the regular season title and the WCC Tournament. How will the Zags react as a challenger rather than defending champion? Is Saint Mary’s for real or just a pretender? This is the key storyline for the WCC heading into the 2012-13 season. Gonzaga answers with a strong returning lineup boasting conference leaders Elias Harris at strong forward and dual freshmen sensations Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. at the guard spots. Rather than miss the graduated Robert Sacre, Zag partisans insist more playing time for Sam Dower will equal more production in the post. Saint Mary’s answers with a possibly even stronger backcourt of Olympics hero Matt Dellavedova and defensive terror Stephen Holt. The Gaels will have a rebuilt front line anchored by redshirt sophomore Brad Waldow and transfer forward Matt Hodgson, and looks forward to proving last year’s title was no fluke.

These WCC Stars Will Determine the Storyline of the 2012-13 Season

  • Revamp or Disaster? San Francisco coach Rex Walters was consistently cool when asked about the unsettling defection of six players from his roster following last season’s disappointing season (8-8, fifth place in WCC). For the most part he knew they were leaving, Walters said, and he has replaced them with players of equal or better value. Maybe, but any time a team loses its top four scorers (Angelo Caloiaro, Perris Blackwell, Rashad Green and Michael Williams) and returns only two players with significant game experience – Cody Doolin and Cole Dickerson – it puts tremendous pressure on the newcomers. Of the many new faces on the Hilltop, former UCLA recruit De’End Parker, recently cleared to participate in the upcoming season, looks to be the Dons’ best bet for stardom.
  • Broncos Healthy Again. Things could not possibly have gone worse for Santa Clara last year – really, they lost all 16 conference games – so maybe karmic forces are aligned to bring the Broncos salvation. Marc Trasolini, the hard-nosed 6’9″ forward who was looked upon to provide senior leadership, instead tore his ACL in the preseason. Outstanding shooting guard Kevin Foster was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence following a Bronco home loss to Saint Mary’s, and never returned to action. With Trasolini and Foster back this season, Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating should smile more. Keating will also have improving 7-foot center Robert Garrett and slick point guard Evan Roquemore back in the fold, so the Broncos have a solid foundation for success

Reader’s Take

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ATB: Madness Ensues During Four Classic Conference Tournament Finishes Monday Night

Posted by EJacoby on March 6th, 2012

Last Night’s Lede – Not a single power conference team played on Monday night and there were only 12 total games played, yet it ended up being one of the best nights of the entire season. Why’s that? Because it was the first full night of Championship Week, in which all games taking place from here on out will come during postseason tournaments. Monday saw four conference tournament finals take place – two at 7:00 PM ET, two at 9:00 PM ET – on ESPN or ESPN2, and each game came down to the final possession. The four championships were decided by 13 total points and included three overtime sessions. There was also important action taking place in other mid-major tournaments, so let’s jump right into it…

Your Watercooler MomentVCU Returns to the Tournament

Brad Burgess and VCU Shot Their Way Back to the Big Dance (Washington Examiner/L. Alvarez)

Last year’s unbelievable Cinderella story has guaranteed itself a place in the Big Dance once again this year. Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams were squarely on the bubble heading into Monday night’s CAA Tournament final, as was their opponent, Drexel. A hard-fought game in which VCU led by double-digits for much of the game wound up being close at the end and came down to the final possession when Drexel guard Frantz Massenat’s three for the tie hit the back iron. VCU earned itself an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and there’s not a single team in the bracket that wants to face Shaka Smart’s team in the first game next week. The Rams got 16 points, five assists, four rebounds, and five steals from Darius Theus while their star Brad Burgess had just six points. Drexel, which had just eight assists compared to 18 turnovers, now must sweat it out on Selection Sunday with a very strong conference showing but some weak overall profile numbers such as the #226 strength of schedule that won’t be pleasing to the NCAA Tourney committee. Don’t be shocked, though, if Drexel ends up making it so that you’ll see both of these teams playing again next week.

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ATB: NPOY Race Dead Even, Border War Showcases College Hoops, and OSU/Michigan Blow Big Ten…

Posted by rtmsf on February 27th, 2012

This Weekend’s Lede. It was a wild and wonderful college basketball weekend filled with bubble teams fighting for their lives and others maneuvering for seed position. In many of the smaller conferences, the regular season ended and schools are now preparing to begin conference tournament play this week (egads, the Big South begins Monday night!). For most of the power conference teams, though, each game carries more weight than those that came before it, and perhaps nowhere was that more true than in Lawrence, Kansas, on Saturday afternoon. Let’s jump into that game and everything else that went down this weekend…

Your Watercooler Moment. Anthony Davis or Thomas Robinson — Who Ya Got?

T-Rob Won the Weekend, But Will He Win the NPOY? (Topeka CJ/M. Gunnoe)

The National Player of the Year race got even more compelling on Saturday afternoon as the two leading candidates, Kansas’ Thomas Robinson and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, each made his case through dominant performances in key rivalry games in front of a CBS national television audience. Davis started the day with a near-perfect 10-11 shooting performance against Vanderbilt that included 28 points, 11 rebounds, and six blocks to highlight his candidacy as the most valuable player in America. Robinson finished it with a 28-point, 12-rebound masterpiece of his own that lacked in Davis’ near-perfection (T-Rob shot 10-21 from the field), but more than compensated for it with his timeliness. It was Robinson’s layup (and-one) with 16 seconds left that tied the game with arch-rival Missouri at 75-all, and it was his subsequent rejection of Phil Pressey’s driving shot attempt that sent the game into overtime, where KU outlasted the Tigers, 87-86. Because of Davis and Robinson, both Kentucky and Kansas clinched regular season conference championships, the incredible eighth Big 12 title in a row for the Jayhawks and the 45th SEC title in history for the Wildcats.

We did some crowd-sourcing on Twitter yesterday over this very question and it’s clear that there is no consensus on who the NPOY should be. A common refrain that we heard was that Davis is more valuable defensively than Robinson (probably true) and that should therefore make the difference; conversely, Kansas without Robinson in its lineup may look a lot worse than Kentucky would without Davis on its front line (also probably true). Each player is a certain First Team All-American, but the duo will each have two more games over the next seven days to make their final cases to America — UK vs. Georgia and at Florida, and KU at Oklahoma State and vs. Texas. In a too-close-to-call competition, one particularly good or bad game relative to each other could make all the difference.

Top Storyline. The Border War Showcases College Hoops At Its Best. Given everything that was at stake locally, regionally and nationally in Saturday’s Border War showdown between Missouri and Kansas, the basketball gods cast a fitting tribute to a series that does not deserve to end. The game had just about everything you could ask for except a buzzer-beating game-winner (and let the record reflect that Marcus Denmon’s shot just after the final horn fell into the hole), including All-America performances from players sure to soon be on those lists, a fan environment perhaps unparalleled anywhere else in the sport, and an epic comeback that will no doubt cause glee or consternation for years depending on which side of the Missour/Kansas border you live on. It was just a superb game for any college basketball fan to enjoy, and if Saturday’s masterpiece was indeed the end of the series for a while, it will have to live on through repeated showings of clips such as this one. (note: of course, these games don’t matter)

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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 23rd, 2012

Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.

Reader’s Take

 

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.

Consider:

  • 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.

Power Rankings

  1. 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 »
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St. Mary’s Is in a Familiar Mid-January Position: Will It Hold Up?

Posted by rtmsf on January 18th, 2012

WCC fans: Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. It’s mid-January, and St. Mary’s is surging. Coming off a pair of weekend victories that included a blowout over bitter rival Gonzaga and a tough-but-expected win over pesky Portland, the Gaels currently sit at 17-2 overall and a pristine 6-0 in the WCC. The national media has taken notice, serving up Randy Bennett‘s team as the #24 team this week in the AP poll and #23 in the Coaches Poll. (Incidentally, SMC is #17 in this week’s RTC rankings.) Once again, things are looking up in Moraga as fans of the tiny East Bay school dream of an elusive WCC championship and, harking back to 2010, perhaps another deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The question on everyone’s minds around the WCC, though, is whether this year’s SMC team is for real or another mirage in a basketball desert full of them. Consider the table below, showing St. Mary’s fortunes both before and after this point in the season over the last five years.

It’s not difficult to discern from the table that St. Mary’s tends to get off to a hot start each and every year. Somewhat peculiarly, the Gaels’ best team — the 2009-10 Sweet Sixteen bunch led by Omar Samhan — had the most losses of any team during this five-year window at this point in the season (three). But unlike that team, Randy Bennett’s other squads have largely faded down the stretch. The 2007-08 team lost four of its last six games to finish the season, while the 2008-09 squad crashed so badly after Patty Mills broke his hand that the Gaels were left out of what seemed to be a surefire NCAA Tournament bid that year. Last year’s squad was also nationally ranked at this mid-January juncture, having gotten off to yet another sizzling start. Three straight late February losses, though, allowed Gonzaga to keep its stranglehold on a share of the WCC regular season title, while a confounding road defeat to a horrible San Diego team likely relegated the Gaels to the NIT for the second time in three seasons.

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That’s Debatable: Most Exciting Conference Race

Posted by rtmsf on January 12th, 2012

That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude.  Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people.  We’ll try to do one of these each week during the rest of the season.  Feel free to leave your takes below in the comments section.

This Week’s Topic: With conference play heating up, what conference race are you most excited about this year and why?

Danny Spewak, Big 12 Microsite Correspondent

A one-bid conference since 2007, the Missouri Valley may finally regain its status this winter as college basketball’s premiere non-BCS league. And that’s not just because of Doug McDermott and his ranked Creighton Bluejays. This league has more substance than that. Only 0-5 Bradley is more than two games out of first place right now, where Wichita State, Missouri State and Creighton each sit at 4-1. Indiana State, which won at Vanderbilt earlier this season and represented the MVC in the NCAAs a year ago, will also surely recover from a disappointing 2-3 start in conference play. Same goes for Northern Iowa, which rolled through its non-conference schedule before losing four of its last six. That’s five teams right there with a shot to win this whole thing, and Evansville, Illinois State, Southern Illinois and Drake aren’t going away without a fight either. If you’re still not convinced that somebody could knock off CU, consider that reigning POY Kyle Weems already outplayed McDermott in Omaha in a 77-65 victory on December 28. And you wonder why we’re all so fascinated by the Missouri Valley Conference on a yearly basis.

Brian Otskey, Big East Correspondent

When I first thought about this question, the Big 12, Pac-12 and Missouri Valley came to mind. Then I took a closer look at the Big Ten. Preseason favorite Ohio State has two losses already and Michigan State sits atop the league at 4-0. That two game lead over the Buckeyes in the loss column is significant and Ohio State’s loss at Illinois on Tuesday night officially opened the door. The Big Ten has five teams that can contend (six if you include a good Purdue team). With home court advantage being historically more significant in this league than others, anything can happen. There seems to be something missing from this Ohio State team. The easy answer is it doesn’t have Jon Diebler anymore but there may be something deeper. With the Buckeyes losing two of their first five league games, this conference is up for grabs and may be the best race.

I. Renko, Columnist

West Coast Conference – Gonzaga and St. Mary’s now have some company atop the WCC, with BYU having joined the conference and showing very little letdown after the departure of The Jimmer.  All three teams are in the Pomeroy top 25, and a true round-robin schedule — something only one power conference can boast — ensures that they play each other twice, home and away.  Four of those five remaining games are on ESPN2 on late night Thursdays, where they will have little competition for the eyeballs of college hoops fans.  While there isn’t the star power of an Adam Morrison, Patty Mills, or Jimmer Fredette, it’s fun to watch each team work to be more than the sums of their parts. Plus, there’s just enough depth in this league for one of the big three to suffer an upset loss and add more intrigue to the race for the top.

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