Increasingly Balanced WCC Could Have Bright Future Ahead

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 10th, 2014

Let’s play a little word association game. I say WCC, you say… Gonzaga – right? But when I say Gonzaga, there are bound to be a dozen or so words that will escape your lips before you say WCC. This only makes sense, because for as long as anyone can remember, Gonzaga has been the WCC. Or, at the very least, that interchangeability has served as a quick and easy (and fairly accurate) mental shortcut. But here in 2013-14, the times are a changin’ as Gonzaga has shown more fragility than it has in a long while, but more importantly, the rest of the conference has taken a significant step forward.

BYU Is A Big Part Of The More Balanced West Coast Conference We Have Seen This Year. The Cougars Are Also One Of Many WCC Teams That Should Be Even Better In 2014-15

BYU Is A Big Part Of The More Balanced West Coast Conference We Have Seen This Year. The Cougars Are Also One Of Many WCC Teams That Should Be Even Better In 2014-15.

That pairing of Zag vulnerability and WCC uprising was on full display Saturday night in the WCC quarterfinals, where a Santa Clara team that finished eighth in the league pushed Mark Few’s team to the final buzzer. Gonzaga managed to narrowly escape the Broncos’ challenge (on a David Stockton coast-to-coast layup in the final seconds) and is still the clear favorite to take the WCC Tournament title this week, but are these more balanced days here to stay and flourish in the WCC?

The WCC will likely only send two teams to the 2014 NCAA Tournament (an outside shot at three if Saint Mary’s or San Francisco can steal the WCC Tournament title), but even with Gonzaga slightly down, the league has been better than it has been in a very long time. Their current conference RPI and KenPom ranking of #9 is the best since the 2004-05 season, and there may be even better days ahead. Saint Mary’s core of seniors leaves Randy Bennett’s team vulnerable to a significant drop-off next season (the SMC situation almost demands its own post, honestly), but outside of the Gaels and a senior-laden Pacific team, most every WCC team will return the bulk of its core. The young nuclei around the league have all had their moments this season, and coaching staffs at Pepperdine, San Diego, Portland, Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara should all be expecting improved teams to return in 2014-15.

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O26 Game of the Week: VCU Visits Saint Louis in Defensive Clash

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 12th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Virginia Commonwealth (19-5) at Saint Louis (22-2) – 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2, Saturday

This game punctuates what could be a decisive week in the Atlantic 10. If VCU can take down George Washington on Wednesday night, it will claim sole possession of second place and remain just two games back of Saint Louis heading into Saturday. A victory would pull Shaka Smart’s club within a game of the top spot, setting the stage for a crucial rematch on March 1st; a loss would give the Billikens an overwhelming advantage over the rest of the league, nearly guaranteeing a second-straight regular season title. And conference implications aside, this game offers each team—both stingy-defensive units with second-weekend potential—the opportunity to notch a resume-bolstering victory just one month out from Selection Sunday. A lot will be at stake in Chaifetz Arena.

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

VCU travels to Saint Louis for an enormous Atlantic 10 tilt. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

If last year was any indication, Saint Louis should have no problem handling VCU and its HAVOC defense, which is predicated on forcing turnovers and scoring points in transition. In their only regular season meeting of 2013, the Billikens—who run a slow-paced, ball-control offense—broke the Rams’ press time after time down the floor, committing just eight turnovers and getting countless easy looks under the basket. In turn, VCU was unable to get anything in the way of transition buckets—a huge problem against a dominant half-court defense adept at taking away the three point shot, the Rams’ next-best scoring method. Saint Louis coasted to a 14-point home victory in that one and validated it a month later in the A-10 Championship game, again staving off VCU’s pressure on its way to claiming the league’s postseason crown.

So, then, what hope could the Rams possibly have this year, on the road against virtually the same team? Well, for starters, the Billikens have been skating on the thin ice in recent weeks. Three of their last five games have been one possession contests in the final minute of regulation, including an overtime home victory over then-winless George Mason. They won all three—part of a current 16-game winning streak—but showed slight vulnerabilities on defense and at times struggled to score. If Saint Louis continues playing with fire, odds say it will eventually get burned. Plus, this season’s Billikens aren’t quite the offensive team they were a year ago (scoring at a modestly lower rate), and VCU is even better on defense. Anytime a middle-of-the-pack offense meets an elite defense, the former is probably going to have trouble at various points in the game. Of course, the same can be said for VCU’s offense and Saint Louis’ defense, but the point remains: the Rams certainly have a chance. And if they do manage to pull one out on the road, the A-10 will become a whole lot more interesting.

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Checking in on… the West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 1st, 2014

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

Looking Back

Every week in a conference season is its own self-contained drama with winners, losers, and in-betweeners. The opening week is more dramatic than most because portents are seen and chances are calculated. After the opening weekend of the nine-week WCC season, some definite winners and losers emerged. Whether they stay that way will depend on what happens from now until March 1.

Marty Wilson and Pepperdine picked up arguably the best win of the weekend. (US Presswire)

Marty Wilson and Pepperdine picked up arguably the best win of the weekend. (US Presswire)

Winners: Loyola-Marymount, Pepperdine, and Gonzaga made the most of opening at home by sweeping both opponents. Most impressive: Pepperdine’s 80-74 win over BYU, which had defeated Stanford and Utah State on the road and Texas at a neutral-site game.

Losers: Portland and Pacific, which blew opportunities to start the season with solid home wins, BYU, which bombed on the road at LMU and Pepperdine, and San Diego, which also lost two road games. It’s a toss-up whether Portland or BYU was most disappointing. Portland had winnable games against San Francisco and Santa Clara, but lost both, and BYU looked like anything but the team that is going to threaten Gonzaga for the conference title. Pacific had a wounded Saint Mary’s that was coming into the Spanos Center after a disastrous Diamond Head Classic performance (0-3) and was without head coach Randy Bennett, who was serving an NCAA-imposed five-game suspension. The Tigers lost anyway, 88-80, blowing a chance to make its debut in the WCC (after a 43-year absence) with a positive statement.

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For How Long Can Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino Mask BYU’s Problems?

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 26th, 2013

Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s BYU-Texas game from the CBE Classic in Kansas City.

In the first half of BYU’s 86-82 win over Texas Monday night, it was Matt Carlino. Following intermission, Tyler Haws made all the noise. The Cougars’ two best scorers combined for 45 points, and Haws hit the enduring shot of the game, an off-balance runner 19 feet away from the basket with the shot clock expiring to give BYU a late three-point lead. Escaping with a win in a match-up that featured 18 ties and 21 lead changes, Brigham Young washed out the gross taste left in its mouth by a loss to Iowa State last week. When the Cougars’ offense is rolling, hitting shots in fewer than five dribbles and moving the ball quickly around the floor, it’s a joy to watch. Individual scorers like Carlino and Haws, who scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, make college basketball worth watching this season.

But, BYU’s rebounding. Oh, their rebounding.

BYU (Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star/MCT)

BYU Can Have a Great Season, But Rebounding And Defense Are Once Again Worrisome (Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star/MCT)

Zone defenses like the one BYU deployed as it tried to combat Texas’ athleticism are prone to giving up offensive boards, as any Syracuse or Baylor fan will readily tell you. But the apathy that the Cougars showed on the glass isn’t something you’ll see very often this year. Texas shot just 37.8 percent from the floor, but the Longhorns rebounded 17 of their misses which led to 24 second-chance points. Texas center Cameron Ridley had one of the best games of his career, gathering 10 rebounds to go with 12 points and a menacing six blocks. There was no mistaking the advantage he had down low.

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Seven Sweet Scoops: Andrew Wiggins Visits Florida State, Jabari Parker Returns From Injury…

Posted by CLykins on December 7th, 2012

Seven Sweet Scoops is the newest and hottest column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting analyst. Every Friday he will discuss the seven top stories from the week in the wide world of recruiting, involving offers, which prospect visited where, recent updates regarding school lists, and more chatter from the recruiting scene. You can also check out more of his work at RTC with his weekly column “Who’s Got Next?”, as well as his work dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account @CLykinsBlog for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene.

Note: ESPN Recruiting used for all player rankings.

1. Wiggins Got Game?

Down in Tallahassee, Florida the nation’s No. 1 overall ranked senior, Andrew Wiggins, took his first official visit to Florida State this week. The 6’8″ Canadian small forward out of Huntington Prep (West Virginia) is highly regarded as the best high school basketball player in the country and rightfully so. However, the visit is now being highly publicized for the off-court attention he received more than just basketball. Before watching the Seminoles’ intrastate match-up between No. 6 Florida, in which they were routed 72-47, the big story that has gone viral since Wednesday came from one small tweet from @NosillaDraw, a Florida State co-ed, who was one of Wiggins various “tour guides” on Tuesday. “If my girls and I didn’t convince you to come to FSU last night I don’t know what would,” tweeted the young female, attached with a photo of Wiggins and three other FSU co-eds. The tweet, which was picked up originally by Matt Jones of Kentucky Sports Radio, caused quite the recruiting stir in Lexington and in Tallahassee moments after being sent to the masses. Wiggins, who is also considering Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio State, was then spotted behind the FSU bench along with his parents and FSU alums, Marita Payne and Mitchell Wiggins, for the game. Fans and cheerleaders alike also made their case for why he should become a Seminole, with chants, signs taking shots at Kentucky, and white T-shirts that spelled out “We Want Wiggins!” across the chest. While Florida State has a lot of work to do on the court this season, landing Wiggins would give the Seminoles their most coveted recruit during head coach Leonard Hamilton’s tenure. One thing is for certain — the Seminoles faithful reassured Wiggins that he is their No. 1 priority; however, time will tell in the spring if Wiggins agrees and makes Florida State his No. 1 choice.

A group of Florida State co-eds tried their hand at luring Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall ranked senior, to Tallahassee

2. Jabari Parker Returns To Court

He’s back. The nation’s No. 2 overall ranked senior, Jabari Parker, made his on-court return on Saturday night for Simeon Career Academy (Illinois) at the Chicago Elite Classic after nursing a fracture in his right foot suffered in the summer while participating with the U-17 Team USA squad. Parker was not expected to play for Wolverines as of the night before, but felt well enough to suit up and return to the court with his teammates in their season opener. Limited to just 10 minutes of action, Parker finished the game with six points, four rebounds and two assists as Simeon got a win in which they led wire-to-wire. Parker, who is deciding between BYU, Duke, Florida, Michigan State and Stanford, showed some signs of rust, but viewed it as just another hurdle in the recovery process. “I felt good,” the 6’8″ small foward said. “Of course I had some bumps and bruises coming in, but as the game progressed I was a little sore. But I’m learning how to get my wind back and trying to get back in shape.” He has taken four of his five official visits and will prepare to trip to Stanford before making his highly anticipated decision either in January or February. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo was on hand at the Chicago Elite Classic as the Spartans, along with Duke, have been mentioned as the co-favorites to land his services.

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Seven Sweet Scoops: Julius Randle Out Three Months, Andrew Wiggins Plans Visit To Florida State…

Posted by CLykins on November 30th, 2012

Seven Sweet Scoops is the newest and hottest column by Chad Lykins, the RTC recruiting analyst. Every Friday he will discuss the seven top stories from the week in the wide world of recruiting, involving offers, which prospect visited where, recent updates regarding school lists, and more chatter from the recruiting scene. You can also check out more of his work at RTC with his weekly column “Who’s Got Next?”, as well as his work dedicated solely to Duke Basketball at Duke Hoop Blog. You can also follow Chad at his Twitter account @CLykinsBlog for up-to-date breaking news from the high school and college hoops scene.

Note: ESPN Recruiting used for all player rankings.

1. Julius Randle To Miss Three Months. Julius Randle, the No. 4 overall ranked prospect in the class of 2013, is expected to miss three months after fracturing a bone on the top of his right foot. From Prestonwood Christian Academy (Texas), Randle suffered the injury during the Thanksgiving Hoopfest on November 24. He underwent surgery on Tuesday and is targeting a return to the court either during the high school playoffs for Prestonwood, or the postseason all-star games for the senior class at the latest. Among the schools pursuing the 6’9” power forward include Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina State, Oklahoma and Texas. Randle has already made visits to Florida, Kentucky and Oklahoma and has finalized visits to Texas (December 15-16), Kansas (December 28-30) and NC State (January 25-27), with a spring decision most likely. One day prior to his injury, Randle had notched a double-double in his first and possibly only game for Prestonwood this season with 27 points and 13 rebounds in their season-opener.

Julius Randle is considering Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina State, Oklahoma and Texas

 2. Andrew Wiggins Scheduling Florida State Visit. The No. 1 overall ranked prospect in the class of 2013 and widely regarded as the best high school basketball player in the nation, Andrew Wiggins is planning his first official visit to Florida State. Although the date has yet to be confirmed, it is likely that the visit will come in the first weekend of December. Since his reclassification into the senior class, Wiggins has received new interest from the likes of Kansas, North Carolina and Ohio State. However, throughout his entire recruitment two schools have been viewed as the leaders for the 6’8” small forward, Florida State and Kentucky. When speaking of the Seminoles, the Wiggins name is synonymous with their program as both of Andrew’s parents — former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins and former Canadian Olympic track star Marita Payne-Wiggins — attended Florida State. A member of Huntington Prep (West Virginia), Wiggins most recently participated alongside teammate and Florida State commit Xavier Rathan-Mayes at the Charlotte Hoops Challenge in front of Seminoles’ head coach Leonard Hamilton and associate head coach Stan Jones. With a hectic playing schedule ahead of him, Wiggins is expected to plan more visits when he can in the future with a spring decision targeted.

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