RTC Aftermath will come to you each night where our correspondents are at the conference tournament games as a part of RTC Live. Michael Vernetti is in Las Vegas all weekend covering the WCC Tournament for RTC.
San Diego, riding strong performances from its front court tandem of Gyno Pomare (18 points) and Roberto Mafra (14 points) toppled Loyola 62-56 to move into tomorrow’s quarterfinal game with Santa Clara. Mafra, notching his career high, and Pomare teamed up to overshadow a strong performance by Loyola freshman Kevin Young, who scored a career-high 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds. RTC Live was there covering this game.
In tonight’s second game, Pepperdine prevailed 93-85 over San Francisco in a freewheeling affair featuring strong performances by Dior Lowhorn of USF (32 points) and Mike Hornbuckle (25 points) of Pepperdine. The Waves advance to play Portland on Saturday night following the conclusion of the San Diego-Santa Clara game beginning at 6 p.m.
RTC Live will be covering the San Diego vs. Santa Clara game at 6pm Saturday evening. Stop by and leave your questions and comments.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
My, my, what an intriguing set of scenarios is emerging in the WCC’s final week to determine the number two seed in the conference tournament. Oh yeah, Gonzaga wrapped up the conference title – its ninth consecutive – with a pair of routine wins over Loyola-Marymount on Thursday (2/19) and Pepperdine on Saturday (2/21).
The two seed is important because the holder gets a bye straight to the conference semifinals. That means no game on Friday, March 6 or the following Saturday – a chance to watch the lower-echelon teams scramble for position from the comfort of the stands. The top two teams play for the first time on Sunday, with the winners advancing to the championship game and chance for the automatic NCAA bid on Monday night in Las Vegas. At this time of year no team wants to play an extra game, and the thought of playing three games in a row over a weekend is daunting. That’s the kind of thing teams do early in the season, in such balmy climes as Honolulu, when they’re fresh.
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
There is no drama left in the race for the WCC conference title and favorite’s role heading into the conference tournament – it’s Gonzaga by a landslide – but that doesn’t mean the excitement is over in the West Coast Conference. With Portland’s emergence as a threat to Saint Mary’s for number two behind the Zags and a wild scramble underway to fill out the top four league spots, the last two weeks of play will be interesting.
Here’s how it is shaping up:
Saint Mary’s vs Portland
The Gaels may have righted themselves following the loss of Patty Mills on Jan. 29 by losing a winnable rematch against Gonzaga 72-70 (2/12) and pulling away from Portland in the second half to win 77-65 (2/14), both games in Moraga. Not only did the win over the Pilots give the Gaels as a team a much-needed confidence boost, it may have given even more to sophomore point guard Mickey McConnell. McConnell rebounded from a miserable outing as Mills’ stand-in against Gonzaga – six turnovers and five points is not a line to be remembered – to score 20 against Portland and post a gleaming line: four-for-four from three-point land and six-for-six from the foul line. McConnell has been up and down this year for the Gaels, but may be coming into his own at a crucial time. A coaches’ son from Mesa, AZ, McConnell has held coach Randy Bennett’s praise and confidence since arriving in Moraga, and now has a perfect opportunity to show everyone else what Bennett sees.
Michael Chin is the RTC correspondent for the WCC.
WCC Conference Action opens this week. After what can only be characterized as a mediocre non conference season, the eight west coast teams will begin play on Friday. Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s are heads and heels above the rest of the competition, the Gaels sporting an impressive 13-1 record and GU coming out 9-4 after playing the most brutal non conference schedule in the country. Other than the two headliners only Portland has exceeded expectations this season, posting a winning record going into action this weekend.
Looking towards March, I would say that if Saint Mary’s or Gonzaga do not win the conference tournament, don’t expect both to get a bid to the Dance. Although both teams may be deserving, the bottom half of the conference is simply terrible. Loyola Marymount hasn’t even won a game yet. With that said, here are some things to watch for over the conference season:
(1) Which Gonzaga team comes out to play?
When the Bulldogs are playing confident, as they did against Tennessee last night, they can play with anyone in the country. Between Stephen Gray, Austin Daye, Matt Bouldin, Josh Heytvelt, and Micah Downs, they have as many scorers and perimeter threats as anyone in the country. Additionally, this team has shown they have some heart, playing team defense without a force in the middle. However, as Mark Few has said himself, the Zags are thin down low. If their confidence takes a shot, they could be in for a few upsets and a surefire loss to the Gaels. However, if they hit their stride, and continue to stroke it, as they are capable of doing, watch out.
Michael Chin is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
So first, five things I noticed from WCC basketball this week:
If you haven’t notice by now, Gonzaga is for real. To beat Maryland, Oklahoma State, and Tennessee in one week is a feat so early in the season. If this is a foreshadowing of what’s to come, consider them a Sweet Sixteen lock.
Patrick Mills is not the best point guard in college basketball. I love, love, love the Gaels, but Mills is not NBA-ready. Throughout last week’s tournament you saw a player who continually forced the ball, trying to make too many difficult shots and passes. He has some really spectacular moments, especially in transition, but as a true point guard he didn’t run the offense well. I would say from a point guard standpoint I would put: Lawson, Collison, and Pargo all ahead of him.
San Diego is overrated. So I really had high hopes for these guys, but they have crumbled in games this year. Close game against Wisconsin, but lose to Miami by 20. Granted the U is a top 25 team, but if you are supposed to be a tournament team, you can’t get blown away. Oh, and I don’t really think UNLV is that good, and San Diego couldn’t hang there either. I think they still have the potential to be very good, especially when you have guys like seniors Gyno Pomare and Rob Jones, but this team needs to pick it up.
Eric Reveno of Portland has done an amazing job. Welcome back to relevancy, Pilots. I guess I’ll change your name back to UP from PU. One might have thought that after a loss to Portland St. this team was a fluke. I’m going on record and saying, “You’re Wrong.” While they don’t have a special player, Reveno has them playing good team basketball and he knows how to play to their strengths.
Gonzaga is for real…Oh I already mentioned that, but I can’t believe how talented this team is. I had them ranked low because I didn’t believe Austin Daye could play the four, or Josh Heytvelt would return to his normal self. They proved this writer wrong.
Game of the Day.Xavier 63, Virginia Tech 62 (OT). This ending was almost as ridiculous as the Brandon Roy nonsense from a couple of weeks ago. After it appeared the Va Tech had won the game on a layup by Jeff Allen with under three seconds remaining, Xavier threw it up ahead to Dante Jackson, who at that point was 0-8 with 2 pts in the game. So of course he throws in a bank shot from 50 feet to win (see below). This was easily the best game-winner of the young season, and will probably be in the running for best of the season this year. XU’s Derrick Brown led the Musketeers with 16/6, but Va Tech may not have been in that position if their star had shown up on the offensive end – AJ Vassallo had a mere 4 pts on 2-13 (0-6 3FG) shooting, 15 pts below his average. At least he stepped it up otherwise, though, with 10 rebs and 8 assts.
Duke 71, Michigan 56. Hey, Duke won another tournament title at Madison Square Garden! Never seen that before! Coach K is only 94-10 in November at Duke, so if you didn’t see this one coming, then you haven’t watched college basketball in the last three decades. It got us wondering, how many of these tourneys has Coach K won over the years? Surpisingly, he’s only won three of the five PNITs that he’s been in (1985, 2000, 2008) – sure feels like more. The Blue Devils relied on a balanced attack–both in terms of depth and playing both halfs (looking at you Henderson and Singler)–to vault themselves into a #1 seed in everyone’s Week 3 NCAA tournament mock bracket. On the other side, John Beilein and the Wolverine faithful should leave New York City happy though as their win over #4 (not for long) UCLA has served noticed that the Wolverines should be significantly better than last season’s 10-22 record. Perhaps the biggest thing last night’s win over UCLA may have done is make more recruits think about heading up to Ann Arbor so one day Beilein can start more Manny Harrises (game-high 25 points) and less. . .well everybody else on his team. We may find out just how far along these Wolverines have come on December 6th when they get a rematch against Duke in Ann Arbor.
UCLA 77, S. Illinois 60. UCLA improved its east coast record to 2-3 under Howland by pulling away from SIU in the last quarter of this game today. The Bruins relied on a 20-2 second half run to win this game. This trip to MSG should be a useful motivation tool for Ben Howland to motivate his team, which is made up of hyped freshmen and remnants of a team that has made 3 straight Final 4s. The Bruins relied on their veteran leaders (Alfred Aboya, Josh Shipp, and Darren Collison) to win the game as that trio combined for 49 of the Bruins’ 77 points. If Howland is going to make a 4th consecutive trip to the Final 4, his freshmen will have to grow up fast.
More Paradise Jammation.
Miami (FL) 70, Southern Miss 60. Honestly, I’m more interested in what Larry Eustachy was doing between games in the Virgin Islands than this game. However, I suspect that most of you are here for some keen insight into the game. Cliffs Notes summary: Lance Hurdle led the Canes to a victory despite an off night from Jack McClinton. I wouldn’t read too much into this game as a top 25 team should win games against teams like Southern Miss fairly easily, but it is still November so I’ll give The U the benefit of the doubt tonight, but they will have to step it up when they face the winner of. . .
UConn 89, Lasalle 81. Speaking of teams that didn’t quite play up to expectations, #2 UConn struggled to put away LaSalle, a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic 10 team. Jim Calhoun got big games out of Kemba Walker and Jeff Adrien to avoid the huge upset against the Explorers (seriously, what kind of nickname is that?) who shot 50% from the field. However, the biggest story of the night (other than Psycho T returning) was the return of A.J. Price, who was solid if not spectacular in his return. In a related story, Price maybe getting a Facebook invite from Cameron Newton that is assuming, um, Newton can find a computer to log onto the site.
USC 73, UT-Chattanooga 46. It’s the return of Taj Gibson who was AWOL for much of last season (I’m not sure who to name that type of performance after–Taj Gibson or Steve Slaton? We’re a college basketball site, so I’ll go with “pulling a Taj Gibson”.) Gibson paced the Trojans with 17 points and 15 rebounds. For the adolescent girl demographic, the big news of the night was that Lil Romeo took his first college shot. . .and missed.
San Diego, 73, Valparaiso 66. The Toreros were led by center Gyno Pomare’s 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Toreros, who knocked off UConn in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year as a #13 seed face the winner of. . .
Wisconsin 60, Iona 58 (OT). The 25th-ranked Badgers snuck by the Gaels behind 21 points from Trevon Hughes. Somehow, the Badgers won despite going 15 of 48 (31.2%) from the field. So basically, it was a typical Bo Ryan win. I can’t wait to put my Big 10 TV channel to use this year.
Other Games of Mild Interest.
Utah 83, Ole Miss 72. The SEC is now 21-7 with losses to Mercer (x2), VMI, Utah, Illinois, Loyola (IL), and UNC. Other than UNC, not exactly murderer’s row there.
Syracuse 86, Oakland 66. Jonny Flynn brought 18/4 off the bench to assist four others in double figures, but most importantly, SU held Oakland’s Johnathan Jones to 7-23 shooting and only 16 pts.
Pitt 86, Akron 67. I’ll just leave you with this quote from Akron coach Keith Dambrot about Sam Young:
Sam Young physically reminds me of LeBron. Obviously, he’s not as good a player as LeBron, but he’s got that quick-twitch strength and ability to put the ball down. He’s a tough matchup.
I will be waiting to see Young try LeBron’s patented bullrush to/through the basket this year.
Davidson 97, Winthrop 70. Stephen Curry with a ho-hum 30 points and 13 assists. The bigger news for Bob McKillop is the 20 and 15 from Andrew Lovedale. If the Wildcats can get a legitimate inside game going this year, they could be an extremely tough out in March with Curry bombing away from outside.
Memphis 84, Seton Hall 70. Not much to say here. Memphis took an early lead and never looked back. One interesting stat: 30/46 or 65.2%. I’ll let you guess what that represents. (Hint: Don’t ask John Calipari about it.)
Maryland 89, Vermont 74 (OT). That’s not a typo. The Terrapins outscored the Catamounts 17-2 in the 5-minute OT period. I think even Gary Williams will have to be happy with how his team finished the game. He may be a little pissed off about the other 40 minutes though. . .
Tennessee 76, MTSU 66. A thoroughly unimpressive win for the Volunteers. Do top 25 teams really struggle to put away Middle Tennessee State?
Michael Chin is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference (WCC).
Predicted Order of Finish:
Sleeper. San Francisco
WYN2K. For the last ten years the WCC national storyline has read “Gonzaga and the seven dwarfs.” However, as many have learned, Grumpy and Sleepy are finally growing up. Saint Mary’s and San Diego, both of which made the Big Dance last season, return 88% of their scoring and are primed for return trips to March Madness. Saint Mary’s is lead by lightning quick Aussie Patrick Mills and All Conference Defensive Player of the Year Diamon Simpson. Down south, the Toreros return forward Gyno Pomare and guard Brandon Johnson, both of whom made the All-Conference team a season ago. Don’t be fooled however, Gonzaga still has the bullets to defend their conference crown as they return WCC player of the year Jeremy Pargo and potential lottery pick Austin Daye. Aside from the “three wise men,” the remaining teams in the conference are rebuilding. Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and USF all have new coaches, while Santa Clara’s Kerry Keating is only in his second year as the head man of the Broncos. Portland looks to build on a young cast which includes Nik Raivio (brother of former GU All-American Derek) and Luke Sikma (son of Sonic great Jack Sikma).
Predicted Champion.Gonzaga (NCAA #3). The Bulldogs’ strength this year will be in its backcourt where they figure to go with three guard sets quite often. This team will go as far as Conference POY Jeremy Pargo will take them. After flirting with the NBA this summer, the Chicago native decided to return for a final year to hone his outside shooting skills. His backcourt mate Steven Gray is the sharpshooter of the bunch. The third guard for the Bulldogs is Matt Bouldin. After a stellar freshman campaign two seasons ago, Bouldin had an up-and-down year as a sophomore. Demetrius Goodson, a super athletic freshman point guard and Micah Downs, a former Kansas Jayhawk capable of playing the 2, 3, and 4 positions add significant depth to the GU backcourt. The frontline, though stellar on offense, lacks proven depth and a real defensive force. Austin Daye, the silky forward from Irvine, can shoot it from anywhere on the court and provides GU with a real mismatch when he plays at the 3 spot. The only true experienced big man on the GU roster is senior Josh Heytvelt. Injuries and personal problems have nagged at his career, however, but if he can bounce back from a constant foot problem and returns to his sophomore form, GU should have a solid post threat to go alongside their outstanding perimeter shooting. The depth for Gonzaga has potential, but right now it is unproven. The best of the bunch is 7-footer Robert Sacre, but last year Few used him in limited action on tips-offs. Another 7-footer, Will Foster, may provide some defensive minutes, but to date has not shown any offensive prowess. Coaches like Ira Brown’s toughness, but against a Diamon Simpson or Gyno Pomare, he will have a tough time. Freshman Andrew Poling and Iowa POY Grant Gibbs may end up redshirting this season.
Saint Mary’s (NCAA #10). Although the Patty Mills story is the biggest news around in the picturesque campus of Moraga, CA, the Gaels have more to be excited about than Kobe and Chris Paul describing Patty as “lightning quick.” Not only do the Gaels return last year’s freshman of the year (Mills) and Defensive POY (Simpson), but also two other starters and almost all of their scoring. However, what could put the Gaels over the top in the WCC is their depth. Unlike other WCC teams, the Gaels are arguably ten deep. The front line returns all three starters (Simpson, Omar Samhan and Ian O’Leary). Of the three Diamon is the most polished. His game can be described in one word – relentless. Already the senior from Hayward, CA, has broken the career blocks record at SMC and is currently in the top ten all-time in rebounds for the Gaels. Samhan, the only true center on the team, has a nice offensive skill set and has steadily improved his defense over the last two seasons. As mentioned, the bench provides the Gaels with a wealth of experience. Returners Yusef Smith and Lucas Walker, as well as 7-foot Indiana transfer Ben Allen provides the Gaels with true backups for Samhan and Simpson. In particular, Ben Allen’s shooting ability should allow Coach Randy Bennett to use some of the high post offense that got the Gaels to the Dance in 2003-04. In the backcourt, aside from Mills, the Gaels return redshirt junior Wayne Hunter to the lineup. The 6-2 guard would have been Bennett’s best on-ball defender, but because of the logjam last year, Bennett could not find a place for him. Should Hunter’s offense regress, expect the Gaels to go Aussie Carlin Hughes. Even if he doesn’t start, Hughes will see significant minutes as he is the best returning shooter on the Gaels roster. One guy to keep an eye on is freshman Clint Steindl. Another transport from down under, he may take minutes from O’Leary if the senior swingman’s offensive game goes cold. There is talk that Collin Chiverton, fellow teammate of UCLA recruit Drew Gordon, may also see time, but with the depth the Gaels possess, he may end up redshirting.
San Diego (NIT). Seniors Brandon Johnson and Gyno Pomare took the WCC by surprise last season with a strong finish, winning the conference tournament at home, then knocking off UConn in the first round of the NCAAs. The question now is whether their “one shining moment” will catapult the Toreros to the top of the WCC. The good thing for the Toreros is they return their entire team from a year ago. While Pomare and Johnson are the headliners, guards Dejon Jackson and Tremaine Johnson will have to continue their growth in order for their team to reach the Dance. Forwards Chris Lewis and Rob Jones also saw significant action next year and should also to continue to improve. However, in order to have a real shot at the Gaels or Bulldogs, USD will have to get some major contributions from some young players, most notably Brazilian transfer Roberto Manfra and Nathan Lozeau. The two are USD’s biggest bodies and must be able to hold their own against the likes of Josh Heytvelt, Omar Samhan, and Diamon Simpson. Another factor for the Toreros is that the tournament moves from the friendly confines of Jenny Craig Pavilion to a neutral site this year. The last two times USD made it to March Madness, they hosted the WCC Tournament. Here’s an audience-eye view of the big upset over UConn.
Fighting for Fourth.
Santa Clara. Center John Bryant, perhaps the best center in the conference, is a load. But aside from him the team is thin and unless junior guard Calvin Johnson and some transfers step up, the Broncos will only be a .500 team at best.
San Francisco. With the return of all conference forward Dior Lowthorn and former Rutgers guard Manny Quezada, USF has the offensive weapons to upset anyone in the conference. But if new coach Rex Walters wants to play with the big boys he will need to find some other pieces to go along with these two studs.
Portland. Quietly former Stanford assistant Eric Reveno has built a solid team in Portland. Most of his team returns, including guards Taishi Ito and Nik Raivio and forwards Luke Sikma and Robin Smuelders, but they don’t match up well with the likes of Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and San Diego.
Pepperdine. After the Vince Walhberg debacle, Pepperdine went to the archives and dug up former coach Tom Ashbury. With a promising but young team, Ashbury will need to teach these guys how to win so they have a chance in years to come.
Loyola Marymount. Like Pepperdine, Coach Bill Bayno is counting on next year when he brings in Seton Hall transfer Larry Hughes and Oregon Transfer Drew Viney.
All Conference Team.
Patrick Mills, St. Mary’s (POY)
Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga
Austin Daye, Gonzaga
Diamon Simpson, St. Mary’s (DPOY)
Gyno Pomare, San Diego
Prediction. Until another team proves otherwise, the Gonzaga Bulldogs remain at the top. However GU is not a unbeatable as some think (Sporting News ranks them #4 nationally). The Bulldogs can shoot the lights out with the best of them, but their frontcourt remains a huge question mark. On the other hand, Saint Mary’s can bang with anybody, but until someone can prove to be their go-to deep shooter, the Gaels will have a difficult time matching up against upper echelon athletic teams, especially those with great shooting guards. San Diego is the darkhorse, but to this analyst they look like a poor man’s Gonzaga. In order for all three to make a return appearance to the NCAAs they will have to perform well in brutal preseason schedules and manage the expectations. This shouldn’t be a problem for Gonzaga, as they are used to the pressure which comes from being the top dog, but as for Saint Mary’s and San Diego, it will be interesting to see what how they will respond as the hunted.
65 Team Era. The WCC is 20-34 (.370), but let’s not kid ourselves, the majority of those wins (12) are from Gonzaga during the last decade (4 others are from the run-n-gun LMU teams in the late 80s/early 90s). Still, in five of the last nine seasons, the WCC has been a multiple-bid league, including the best-ever showing of three bids in 2008. How interesting is it that the lowest seed, #13 San Diego, was the only team to win a game in the Tourney, while higher seeded #7 Gonzaga and #10 St. Mary’s were sent packing in their first game. With the collective strength of the top half of this conference this year and potentially into the future, there should be numerous opportunities for the WCC to have multiple teams advancing very soon.