Checking In On… the West Coast Conference

Posted by Michael Vernetti on January 23rd, 2014

Looking Back

Things are beginning to have a more familiar look as the WCC season passes the one-third mark: Gonzaga on top, with BYU and Saint Mary’s trailing closely behind. Early-season pretenders such as Pepperdine and San Francisco have been knocked back, if not out, and BYU seems to have overcome its first-week stumble into losses at Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount by rattling off five straight wins.

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

It’s been business as usual for Mark Few and Gonzaga, who have once again performed at a championship level. (AP)

  • Gonzaga has gotten Sam Dower Jr. back and is successfully integrating Louisville transfer Angel Nunez into its offense. Only the return of Gary Bell Jr. from a broken wrist keeps the Zags from fielding the team it envisioned at season’s outset.
  • Saint Mary’s has Randy Bennett back at the helm after a five-game NCAA-imposed suspension, and the result has been two wins at home. The Gaels hope to welcome Garrett Jackson back this week after several weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury, which will give Beau Levesque some support at power forward.
  • All the leaders seem set for the next part of the season, therefore, and only one game separates BYU and a game-and-a-half separates Saint Mary’s from the Zags. Let the games continue.

Power Rankings

  1. Gonzaga (16-3, 6-1)
  2. BYU (13-7, 5-2)
  3. Saint Mary’s (14-5, 4-2)
  4. San Francisco (12-8, 5-3)
  5. Pepperdine (12-8, 5-3)
  6. Portland (11-8, 3-4)
  7. Santa Clara (10-11, 3-5)
  8. San Diego (11-9, 2-5)
  9. Loyola Marymount (10-10, 2-6)
  10. Pacific (10-7, 1-5)

WCC News & Notes

  • Dower celebrated his return to the Gonzaga starting lineup with two monster games in Southern California, an effort that won him WCC Player of the Week honors. Dower was a perfect 7-of-7 against Pepperdine, which had a chance to take over first place in the WCC with a win, and added eight rebounds to his 18 points in a 70-53 rout. He matched that with a 28/14 effort two nights later against LMU, leading the Zags to an 82-72 win. Perhaps in recognition of Dower’s importance, the USA Today poll raised the Zags three spots from 24th to 21st.

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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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Morning Five: New Year’s Eve 2013 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 31st, 2013

morning5

  1. It did not take very long for Louisville’s title defense to turn into a mess. On Saturday, the Cardinals lost to their in-state rival Kentucky in a game in which the Wildcats played for long stretches without Julius Randle, their best player. Yesterday, they lost something even bigger as they dismissed Chane Behanan from the team for an undisclosed violation of university policy. Unlike Behanan’s previous indefinite suspension we think this one will stick regardless of how much sleep Behanan gets. It goes without saying that it is a big blow for the Cardinals who now face an uphill battle in their quest to repeat as Behanan’s departure means an even bigger void on the inside.
  2. Kevin Ware‘s potential redshirt is not as devastating to Louisville’s title defense chances as Behanan’s departure, but it serves as another setback for a team that is essentially living off last season’s reputation this year. Ware, whose injury and comeback served as a symbol for Louisville’s title run, had battled back to return to the court earlier than many expected. Unfortunately, it appears that a kick that he received to the same area as the fracture has caused enough damage that he might sit out the rest of the season.
  3. This has not been the typical Gonzaga season so far and things appear to have gotten even tougher with the news that Gary Bell Jr. will be out “for a while” with a broken right hand. In addition to being much lower in the rankings than they are accustomed to, Gonzaga is also already dealing with injuries to Kevin Pangos and Sam Dower so Bell’s injury only exacerbates a growing problem. Fortunately for Gonzaga it seems like they will only have two teams–BYU and St. Mary’s–to deal with in the WCC and they play them at home first so if they are able to weather the storm in January they could be in good position if they are healthy by February.
  4. On some levels Luke Fischer‘s decision to transfer from Indiana is not particularly notable, but the speed at which he did and how much of a higher level program Indiana was than the rest of his offers is interesting. We won’t pretend to know that much about Fischer or his game, but when a player has one offer from an elite program and a bunch of offers from good, but not elite programs it makes you wonder. Either the elite program is jumping on a hidden gem or maybe everybody else knows that the player might not be as competitive at that level. In any event, we suspect that Fischer will probably end up at one of the other schools that offered him a scholarship in high school.
  5. Finally, with all the injuries, suspensions, and transfers that we have been talking about recently now seems like the perfect time for Seth Davis and his annual Jigsaw Man column. If you are not familiar with the concept, Davis tries to find a “relatively obscure” player who would fill a void on teams that seem to be missing one key element. The most common complaints with the column tend to be on how to define “relatively obscure” since we probably are familiar with almost every significant player in the country. After looking at this for years the best way to do it is just to accept any player who would not be considered a star on his team.
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Rushed Reactions: #13 Butler 64, #8 Gonzaga 63

Posted by WCarey on January 19th, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday night’s game between Gonzaga and Butler. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The Atmosphere At Hinkle Fieldhouse Was Sublime. With ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasting live from Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Butler fans definitely brought it all night long. Not only did the place fill up long before the opening tip, the place was loud long before the opening tip. The noise level only rose as the night went on, seemingly reaching new heights at different points in the game. The Butler faithful were dead set on letting Gonzaga know just how devoted and faithful they are. Gonzaga did not shoot one free throw without being under a copious amount of verbal harassment from the Butler fans. When Roosevelt Jones nailed the game-winning buzzer-beater, the fans spilled out onto the court and joined the team in what was essentially a mob. As the team made its way to the locker room, the fans stayed on the court to celebrate the hard-fought victory.
  2. Despite Defeat, Gonzaga Once Again Showed Its A Very Good Team. On a night where Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. combined to score just five points, the strength of the Gonzaga frontline was on display all night. Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, and Sam Dower each turned in impressive performances going up against a player in Andrew Smith, who had essentially contained Cody Zeller earlier this season. Harris threw in 20 points and collected seven rebounds. Olynyk added 14 points and seven boards. Dower came off the bench and provided a great spark by scoring 20 points – 16 of which came in the first half. Not only did the Zags’ frontline perform well offensively, it also turned in a strong effort on the defensive side of the court. Smith, who entered the game averaging 12 points per game, was held to just seven points and was only able to get off five field goal attempts. While Gonzaga is surely not pleased in defeat, it should be pleased with the effort it got from its interior players.
  3. Never Count Butler Out. Ever. Butler has been college basketball’s darling for quite a few years now and there has been no indication of that changing any time soon. Earlier this season it was sophomore former walk-on Alex Barlow who hit a shot with 2.1 seconds left in overtime to top then number one Indiana. Against Gonzaga, Butler looked to sophomore guard Roosevelt Jones for the late-game heroics. After Butler turned the ball over trailing by one with just 3.5 seconds seconds to play, Jones intercepted the Gonzaga inbounds pass and raced into the lane putting up the game-winning shot a fraction of a second before the final buzzer sounded. Considering Butler’s history in close games against strong opponents, no one should be surprised with how the Bulldogs topped Gonzaga. Butler is a team that has adopted the calm and collected demeanor of its coach Brad Stevens and uses this approach no matter the situation. With Stevens at the controls and Butler playing as a team, there really is no situation this team cannot handle or conquer.

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Set Your DVR: Week of 01.07.12

Posted by bmulvihill on January 7th, 2013

setDVR

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

There are several very meaningful conference games this week, which is great to see so early in the conference season. There’s lots of great games and even more to cover, so let’s not waste any time and get right to the breakdowns.

#18 Notre Dame at #10 Cincinnati – 6:30 PM EST, Monday on ESPN2 (****)

Things Are Looking Good for Mike Brey, Who Just Might Win Another Coach of the Year Awayrd (AP Photo)

Can Mike Brey and the Irish buck history and win their first true road game? (AP Photo)

  • Notre Dame has played 14 games so far and this will be their first true road test of the season. Mike Brey is known for setting his schedule this way and it has not benefited the Irish much over the years. The Irish have lost their first true road game of the season for three straight seasons, and if you examine Notre Dame’s schedule in the Brey era, you will see that losing the first road game of the season is fairly typical. The Irish run up against a Cincinnati team that has lost two of its past three games, including back-to-back home games. The Bearcats can blame most of their recent troubles on poor shooting. They are under 50% eFG for the past five games. They are also struggling to get to the line, which is an indication that they are taking a lot of outside shots. Look to see if Cincy takes the ball to the hoop more to manufacture some points at the free throw line. Also, watch to see if Notre Dame can hit their shots on the road as well as they have at home. It’s doubtful, particularly against tough field goal defense like Cincinnati. The Bearcats should win in a close one.

#23 Pittsburgh at #14 Georgetown – 9:00 PM EST, Tuesday on ESPNU (***)

  • Many questioned how good the Panthers really were given their weak schedule, but with two consecutive losses, it’s looking more and more like the critics were correct. Pitt heads to Georgetown for a tough Big East road game in which a loss will drop them to 0-3 in the conference. Georgetown is coming off a tough road loss to Marquette where offensive rebounding and free throws killed them, much like it did in the Indiana game earlier this season. If Pittsburgh is to win this game, they need to control the offensive glass. They rank sixth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, but watch to see if the length of the Hoyas makes rebounding more difficult for Pitt. Additionally, the Panthers present relatively zero threat from three-point land. They rely on twos heavily and almost exclusively. With the Hoyas ranking 13th in the nation in two-point field goal defense, you can expect Jamie Dixon’s club to have a tough time scoring. It says here that the Hoyas should prevail at home.

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Set Your DVR: New Year’s Week Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 31st, 2012

setDVR

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.

College hoops heads into 2013 with the opening of conference season in some of the major leagues set to begin . The slate of games scheduled for New Year’s Eve is not to be missed, as the Big East and Big Ten seasons both get underway. However, it is one final non-conference match-up that leads our breakdowns. Happy New Year!

Game of the Week

#16 Gonzaga at #21 Oklahoma State – 6:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN2 (*****)

After Spinning His Wheels For Most Of The Season, LeBryan Nash Raised The Roof In Stillwater. (AP)

Le’Bryan Nash and company look to stop Gonzaga’s winning ways against the Big 12. (AP)

  • A win against Oklahoma State today will make Gonzaga the best team in the Big 12. Obviously, Gonzaga is still in the West Coast Conference, but they are already 4-0 against Big 12 teams this season with wins against West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and Baylor. Monday’s game against the Cowboys, however, is their first true road test against a Big 12 opponent. The other games have either been at home or on neutral courts. The Zags usually have a size advantage against their opponents, but Oklahoma State can match their size and even has that advantage at the guard position. The Pokes have four guards who contribute heavily to the offense that are 6’3″ or taller, including 6’7″ Le’Bryan Nash. With Bulldog guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. measuring at 6’2″ and 6’1″, respectively, it will be very important to watch how Mark Few’s squad chooses to defend the perimeter size of the Cowboys. Much of that defensive pressure could actually fall on the Zags’ frontcourt. The Oklahoma State guards do most of their damage inside the three-point line because they are not much of a threat from the outside. Keep an eye on how this defensive responsibility affects Gonzaga’s offense inside. The Bulldogs will still need to pound the ball down low and get to the line because it’s their best chance of winning. If they can get to the line like Virginia Tech did against Oklahoma State, they can win this game in a tough road environment.
  • No team has shot over 50% eFG in a game against Oklahoma State this season, but the Cowboys face a Gonzaga team that is lethally efficient from two-point range. The GU frontcourt’s two-point shooting breaks down like this – Elias Harris shoots 58.8%, Kelly Olynyk shoots 72.3%, Sam Dower shoots 59.7%, and Przemek Karnowski shoots 65.3%. These player will put considerable pressure on Cowboys center Phillip Jurick and freshman forward Kamari Murphy. The key will be how OSU head coach Travis Ford uses his big guards on help defense to stop the Gonzaga low post attack. If Oklahoma State can figure this out, they will pick-up an important non-conference win as they head into Big 12 play.
  • Non-conference home losses are few and far between for Oklahoma State under Travis Ford. It’s hard to believe that Gonzaga can actually go 5-0 against the Big 12 this season, especially on the road in front of the Cowboy faithful at Gallagher-Iba Arena. This game will be extremely fun to watch, but the edge has to go to the Cowboys at home.

Other Games to Watch

#10 Cincinnati at #23 Pittsburgh – 12:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN2 (****)

  • Pittsburgh is a very flimsy 12-1. The only good team they’ve play this season is Michigan and they lost that game. We’ll know very quickly if Pitt is any good against a tough and tested Cincinnati squad. However, the Bearcats have shot the ball quite poorly over the last three games. They cannot afford to continue to do so if they expect to win this one, especially at the “Oakland Zoo” in Pittsburgh. The match-up between Tray Woodall and Cashmere Wright should be great to watch all night. Expect Cincy to get back on track and win this game, though, from behind the three-point line. However, if they are shooting bricks like they have been in the past few outings, Pitt will get a great win to start off the Big East season.

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 28th, 2012

setDVR

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.

We are headed into the final weekend of 2012, which means conference season is just about here. There are a few teams playing this weekend that could use one more strong non-conference win for their NCAA Tourney resumes. However, there is one game this weekend that takes center stage in the Bluegrass State. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Weekend

#24 Kentucky at #3 Louisville – 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (*****)

Pitino looks to end a three game slide to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday (AP)

Pitino looks to end a three game slide to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday (AP)

  • The Louisville-Kentucky series is starting to develop a pattern. Since the 2002-03 season, the Cardinals have won two in a row then dropped three in a row, won two in a row and then dropped three in a row. Rick Pitino and company are in the midst of another three-game slide to their in-state rival, so if the pattern holds, Louisville is due for a win on Saturday. The big news this week that may help secure that victory is the return of Gorgui Dieng from a wrist injury. Dieng has been out since before the Duke game and should have a significant impact against the Wildcats. While he may be a bit rusty, his defense is crucial against the UK frontcourt of Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein. Defense in general will be key for Louisville in this game. Watch Kentucky point guard Archie Goodwin closely to see how he handles the Pitino press. In general, the Wildcats have not turned the ball over a great deal, but this is by far the best defense they have played all season long. Also, watch the rebounding numbers closely. Kentucky has a significant size advantage but the Cardinals have been better on the boards overall. This is where Dieng will make a huge difference. Without him, the Cards have little to no size. The question will be if he can play up to his pre-injury level without any major issues.
  • Kentucky’s three losses this season have been also been their worst turnover performances of the the year (on a per possession basis). Goodwin is turning the ball over at a rate of about 20%, so it will be interesting to see how John Calipari has the offense bring the ball upcourt. Let’s see if they utilize their big men and size advantage to advance the ball. If you see a lot of dribbling in the backcourt by Kentucky, it will probably result in too many turnovers. The Wildcats have shown a more balanced offense against weaker opponents since their last loss to Baylor, but again, they will be facing what could be the best defense in the country, so they must continue to get contribution from a lot of sources. Ryan Harrow and Kyle Wiljter haven proven they can put up 20+ points any given night. Unfortunately, they both can disappear from the offense as well. Both players need to have their best games of the season for Kentucky to win on the road.
  • Dieng looks like he could be the difference in this game. Unfortunately, we do not know where he is at in terms of game stamina. If he can stay on the court and play defense and rebound at a reasonable pace, Louisville should be able to stop its three-game losing streak to Kentucky. If he gets tired or gets into foul trouble, the Wildcats can take advantage of their size and athleticism inside. However, they still need scoring from players like Harrow and Wiltjer if they plan to pull the road upset.

More Great Games

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on December 7th, 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.

With a month to go in the non-conference season, we are starting to sort out the contenders from the pretenders. This weekend provides some additional match-ups that will give us a better indication of which teams we should watch out for come March. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Colorado at #10 Kansas  2:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

This Weekend Colorado Tries to Beat Kansas for the First Time Since 2003

  • You might call this game a renewal of a Big 12 rivalry but the reality is that it has been far from a “rivalry.” Kansas has not lost to Colorado since the 2002-03 season. While this will be the first time that CU plays Kansas as a member of the Pac-12, coach Tad Boyle is 0-3 against the Jayhawks since taking the helm in Boulder two seasons ago. The big question for the Buffaloes will be how they handle KU center Jeff Withey. A few weeks ago, CU was able to slow down another seven-footer in Isaiah Austin when they defeated Baylor. However, Withey is not a freshmen trying to fit himself into “The Pierre Jackson Show.” He’s a senior who has proven to be a dominant force on defense and a capable offensive threat. Withey also cleans up on the glass, particularly on the defensive end. Colorado needs to figure out how to grab some of those misses lest it become a long night. Keep an eye on the three-point shooting of Colorado guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie. Both are threats from deep and both need to be on target to have a chance to win this one.

Temple vs. #1 Duke  3:15 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (****)

  • Last season, Temple beat Duke in Philadelphia on the backs of Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Khalif Wyatt. Hollis-Jefferson and Wyatt combined to go 15-22 from the field in a somewhat surprising upset of the Blue Devils. The Owls also did it without this season’s leading scorer, Scootie Penn. However, when you compare this Duke team to last season’s team, they are more balanced and more patient without Austin Rivers dominating the ball. The Blue Devils have scoring threats all over the floor and point guard Quinn Cook is proving to be an excellent distributor. Additionally, Mason Plumlee has been superb. The key for the Owls will be figuring out a way to stop Plumlee in the paint. Unfortunately for Temple, scoring can come from anywhere when playing the Blue Devils. They are too balanced and too battle tested at this point to drop one to the Owls this year.
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume III

Posted by jbaumgartner on November 26th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

  • I LOVED… Ohio State. Maybe I’m jumping on the bandwagon too early, but I grew to really enjoy this team by the end of last year and feel strongly that they have two unique pieces in Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas. An elite (albeit annoying, in my view) point guard and a versatile wing scorer are two of the more important components in the college game, and any team that possesses them has a chance to be a tough out.
  • I LOVED… as I do every year, trying to figure out how deep this Gonzaga team can go. Each season I really get a kick out of trying to imagine the Zags playing against good competition all year, eventually accepting the reality that they don’t, and then trying to piece together a mental image of what team will show up in March when they inevitably get hit in the mouth by a legit squad with good guards. Still, it’s hard not to like Mark Few’s lineup this season. Not many teams will shoot it better than Gary Bell, Jr. and Kevin Pangos, and even though Elias Harris is turning 32 or so next week, he’s an active presence on the glass to complement a VERY underrated Sam Dower. I guess the Zags can’t be a sleeper in the traditional sense, but this might be their best (and most well-balanced) team in a while.
  • I LOVED Tom Crean showing no shame with his stick of Wrigley’s finest. How can you not love this? If strict adherence to the five-second rule and the world’s weirdest/creepiest Tweet ever doesn’t appeal to this generation’s high-schoolers, I don’t know what does.

  • I LOVED… reading this Sports Illustrated article on Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. It seems like we get plenty of stories every year about father-son relationships gone bad, but this was a rather refreshing example of two kids that have really gone about things the right way and made it through the tougher parts of living in the shadows of their NBA All-Star dads. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on February 2nd, 2012

Michael Vernetti is the WCC correspondent for RTC.

Reader’s Take 

 

Looking Back

Saint Mary’s was in the spotlight last week and the Gaels did not shirk from the attention. First came a businesslike, 71-64, win over Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, then an epochal, 80-66, romp over BYU in Provo that seemed to unhinge everyone connected with BYU basketball. It wasn’t only the 22,000-plus rabid fans in the Marriott Center, it wasn’t only normally low-key BYU coach Dave Rose losing his cool, it wasn’t just Noah Hartsock earning a flagrant foul with a blatant forearm shiver to the neck of Gaels’ forward Rob Jones. It was almost a fan riot, an atmosphere so riddled with boos, objects thrown on the floor and technical fouls that ESPNU announcers Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham repeatedly warned about the need for officials to gain control.

The Battle On The Court Between Saint Mary's and BYU Wasn't The Only Storyline Of That Contest (AP)

Fat chance, as the officiating crew of Frank Harvey, James Giron and Glen Mayberry seemed incapable of providing the right answer to a surly crowd – calling the game tight on both sides and leaving it up to BYU officials to calm the masses. Instead, the crew seemed to come to a collective decision that ignoring repeated fouls by BYU players and cracking down on Saint Mary’s would do the job. This theory came to a head about halfway through the second half with a technical foul called on the Saint Mary’s bench for allegedly standing up and/or crowding the floor – it was never made clear. The spuriousness of that call was caught by a BYU fan who happened to be shooting video of the BYU and Saint Mary’s benches at the time the technical was called.

Check it out:

Everyone on the Saint Mary’s bench is seated at the moment the technical is called. Even if they were all jumping up and down, one wonders how the ref would know since he made the call with his back to the bench and from the opposite end of the court. It seems bizarre and indicative of the desperate measures the refs applied to deal with a bad situation. No one from BYU stepped forward to calm things down, no one addressed the crowd, no one made any placating gestures (except for a routine announcement from the public address announcer after the fans were warned for their first barrage of object-throwing). All in all a big black eye for BYU’s first year in the WCC and a testament to the cool of Randy Bennett’s Gaels, who didn’t panic under relentless pressure from BYU and the crowd.

Power Rankings

1.  Saint Mary’s (21-2, 10-0) spent another week at the top of the league standings and another week moving up in both major rankings – to #16 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll and to #18 in the AP poll. To top it all off, ESPN announced that Saint Mary’s would travel to Murray, Kentucky, on February 18 to play currently undefeated Murray State in the premiere contest of ESPN’s Bracket Buster event. Never mind that neither Saint Mary’s nor Murray State – ranked in the top 10 by both polls – needs the game to break into the NCAA Tournament brackets, it still will be a closely-watched contest with obvious benefits for whichever team wins.

2.  Gonzaga (17-3, 7-1) bided its time last week, topping Portland,74-62, in Portland in its only contest. The Zags saved their energy for their showdown with BYU tonight in Provo, a game with huge importance for both teams. The Zags are two games behind Saint Mary’s at present, although only one behind in the loss column. A loss to equally-desperate BYU would put them two back in the loss column with Saint Mary’s coming to Spokane on February 9.

Mark Few and Gonzaga Is Still Very Much Alive For The WCC Title (AP)

3.  BYU (18-6, 6-3) and Loyola Marymount (13-9, 6-3) (tie): Tonight’s contest with Gonzaga might be BYU’s last chance to salvage its season, as a defeat would drop the Cougars four games back from Saint Mary’s and three behind Gonzaga. Not only how it plays but how its team, coaches, and fans, behave will be under scrutiny for BYU, as a repeat of last week’s meltdown against Saint Mary’s could have dire repercussions for the school’s reputation and self-respect. Loyola split last week, following up the Saint Mary’s loss with a throat-tightening, 62-59, win over Portland that wasn’t decided until the final minutes. The win was important to keep LMU close to the conference leaders and to prove they could win a league game at home. Before dispatching the young Pilots, LMU was 5-0 on the road and 0-3 at home.

5.  San Francisco (15-9, 5-5) began to look more and more like last year’s team (well, it IS last year’s team), as it appears to be peaking at the same time. By beating Santa Clara on the road and San Diego at home, the Dons evened their conference record and began looking ahead to see how far they can advance in the standings. It’s crowded at the top, and it won’t be easy to move into fourth place and earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Dons, with a tough challenge in Los Angeles against LMU on Saturday, seem ready to take it on.

6.  San Diego (8-13, 3-6) showed some signs of life in its, 65-56, home win over Pepperdine – its third win in five games – but then regressed in an, 84-70, road loss to San Francisco. It was enough to keep the Toreros out of the depths of the conference’s lower half.

7.  Portland (5-17, 2-7) is in seventh place only because it has fewer losses than Pepperdine, but the Pilots were more than competitive against LMU and their 74-62 loss to Gonzaga wasn’t as lopsided as the score indicates. Eric Reveno’s achingly young troops scare everybody they play but Portland hasn’t figured out how to beat most teams. Yet.

8.  Pepperdine (8-13, 2-8) recovered from the loss at San Diego to topple hapless Santa Clara, 74-62, at home. The Waves continue the PCH Cup series with LMU tonight, then hitch up their shorts for the invading Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday – it may get ugly.

9.  Santa Clara (8-13, 0-8) continued its nosedive with losses to San Francisco and Pepperdine, and face Portland at home tonight before going on the road to face San Diego. Most observers feel the Broncos will pull out of this swoon some time, but the clock is ticking on the 2012 season.

The Post Intrigue Between Robert Sacre (left) and Brandon Davies Is Just One Of Many Key Matchups In Tonight's Big Contest Between Gonzaga and BYU

Looking Ahead

  • You don’t have to look far for this week’s drama, as Gonzaga vs. BYU in Provo (ESPN2, 8:00 PM Pacific) tonight should have all you want. BYU is barely hanging on in the WCC race and Gonzaga can’t afford to fall further behind Saint Mary’s, which has only tonight’s home game against San Diego.
  • A week from tonight comes the battle between Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga in Spokane, which should be as riveting as the Gaels’ assault on BYU. The Gaels throttled Gonzaga, 83-62, on January 12, and the Zags have not forgotten.
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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 26th, 2012

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

Reader’s Take 

 

Looking Back

  • Suddenly there is a fourth guest at the party. Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU had dominated WCC play in the pre-season and until the halfway point of the conference race, but last Thursday Loyola Marymount rudely interrupted their revels. An 82-68 thumping of BYU in a half-full Marriott Center in Provo sent notice that Max Good’s squad is healthy and hungry to compete for a top spot with the Big Three.
  • Good is enjoying the benefit of having star forwards Drew Viney (15.9 PPG) and Ashley Hamilton (12.5 PPG) in the lineup at the same time, and is receiving outstanding point guard play from Anthony Ireland (15.9 PPG), who was good enough to win Player of the Week honors in the WCC. Ireland’s line in the LMU win over BYU and a subsequent 74-62 win over Santa Clara was remarkably similar: 27 points and five assists against BYU, 25 points and five assists against Santa Clara. That earned him the Lou Henson Award for National Player of the Week from CollegeInsider.com in addition to the WCC honor.
  • The additional factor allowing LMU to separate from its opponents is contributions from other players besides its three leaders: LaRon Armstead, the rugged (6’5”, 200 lbs.) senior forward from Los Angeles, is averaging nine points per game and has been a big factor in the Lions’ success since he recovered from a concussion several games ago. Armstead moved into the Lions’ starting lineup for the first time against BYU and contributed 12 points and six rebounds. Another bruiser from Los Angeles, 6’7”, 240-lb sophomore forward Alex Osborne, has also come on strong lately, racking up nine rebounds and five points in 22 minutes against Santa Clara.

Drew Viney (34) and LMU Are Slowly Fighting Their Way Towards The Top Tier Of The WCC

Power Rankings

  1.  Saint Mary’s (19-2, 8-0) quietly moved up in the national rankings last week, to #20 in the ESPN/Coaches Poll and #21 in the AP poll, thanks to steady wins over Pepperdine at home (61-47) and Santa Clara on the road (93-77) that gave the Gaels their best start in school history. Overshadowed by Ireland’s stellar week was Gaels’ point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who averaged 20 points and six assists in his team’s two wins, including a clinic in the high pick-and-roll against Santa Clara. Time and time again, Dellavedova cruised into the lane against the Broncos and either dropped in runners or found teammates Rob Jones or Brad Waldow for easy buckets. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the WCC

Posted by rtmsf on January 19th, 2012

Michael Vernetti is the West Coast Conference correspondent for RTC.

Reader’s Take 

 

Looking Back

  • Holding serve was the key note last week, as Saint Mary’s slapped down the second of its main competitors for the WCC title, Gonzaga, by a convincing 83-62 margin in Moraga. That followed the Gaels’ first-week trouncing of BYU by 98-82, also at home. Playing the cards dealt to them by an unbalanced conference schedule, the Gaels now have a one-game edge on both rivals before facing them on the road.
  • For Saint Mary’s, the nine-team schedule – reflecting the addition of BYU to the ranks – was front-loaded with rivals (and home court-loaded as well). Gonzaga and BYU, on the other hand, have yet to face each other and both had to travel to Moraga for their initial showdown with the Gaels. The WCC held on to its true round-robin form, however, so each team plays each other twice, meaning Gonzaga and BYU will have their shot at revenge. The Gaels travel to Provo on January 28 and to Gonzaga on February 9; BYU and Gonzaga tangle in Provo on February 2 and in Spokane on February 23.
  • Everything that has transpired in the first three weeks of conference play indicates that the league championship and seeding for the March 1-5 conference tournament in Las Vegas will be determined by those three teams.

Dellavedova and the Gaels Held Serve, Now What?

Power Rankings

  1. Saint Mary’s (17-2, 6-0): The key matchup in Thursday’s game with Gonzaga was supposed to be in the frontcourt, where the Zags’ trio of Robert Sacre, Sam Dower and Elias Harris was reputedly superior to the Gaels’ mixed bag of post players along with stalwart power forward Rob Jones. Sly ol’ Randy Bennett, however, had been tinkering with his post players throughout the pre-conference schedule and by league time had it figured out. The three-headed contingent of redshirt freshman Brad Waldow (6’9”), senior Kenton Walker II (6’9”) and junior Mitchell Young (6’8”) outscored and outrebounded Sacre and Dower by an overwhelming 31 points and 17 rebounds to 12 points and eight rebounds. Read the rest of this entry »
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